Over the Mother’s Day holiday, one family discovered a $5 “Well Behaved Kids” discount on their check after going out for brunch with their toddler.
Apparently Mother’s Day is among the top five most dreaded days for restaurant employees and I fear it’s possible that serving a family with a well behaved child can be a bit of a rare treat. I love the incentive from the restaurant and I would be pretty delighted to be recognized in such a way. But while I’d love to encourage restaurants to follow suit and reward parents for their children’s good behavior, I really think as parents we need to step it up and expect good behavior from our kids.
Going out with my husband and trying new restaurants and different types of food is one of our absolute favorite things to do and always has been. We’re lucky enough to live in a great area for dining with lots of options and new restaurants to explore. Before we became parents, I knew we weren’t simply going to give up one of our favorite pastimes because we had kids. Nope. We like to eat.
When I was pregnant, I was drawn to Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bebe, because the experience of dining with kids is exactly what inspired her to write the book. On NPR’s Weekend Edition, Druckerman said she had an epiphany when she was dining out with her husband and 18-month-old daughter in Paris. Her daughter was refusing to eat anything other than white bread and pasta, with her husband, they focused all their attention on keeping their daughter happy and she looked around and noticed that the other French families seemed to be having a different dining experience. The French children were sitting in their high chairs, independently happily eating vegetables, fish and a variety of other foods and talking to their parents. Everyone was enjoying themselves.
Druckerman began noticing more of the differences between French and American parenting styles. With food preferences, she found that the French didn’t generally believe that kids had inherent likes and dislikes. Instead, according to Druckerman, “appreciation for different food is something you cultivate over time.”
The French believe it’s important to expose your kids to different kinds of food. There are no kid’s menus full of food deemed “kid friendly” like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. From the beginning, kids and adults eat the same thing.
I remember reading this, sitting with my growing pregnant belly, and wondering if it were really that simple. We didn’t want a picky eater whose needs we were constantly catering to and we wanted a child who could behave and dine in public.
Now we have an 18-month-old and well, it’s pretty much that simple. He started solids around six months and soon after, we began feeding him what we ate. (Although we did avoid possible choking hazards, spicy food and allergy triggers.) He’s had (and enjoyed!) asparagus, scallops, chicken wings, lobster, pickles, guacamole and honestly more foods than I could name. He loves to eat and rarely refuses anything. But when he would refuse a food in the beginning, (like Greek yogurt for example), I would offer it again the next day. By the next day or two, he gave it another shot and ate it without a fight.
Having a family dinner regularly is important to us and Daniel is definitely aware of that routine. He’s used to sitting in his high chair, eating the same things we are and seems to really enjoy it. Sometimes he refuses the food at first, and then after he looks at it on his tray for about 10 minutes or so, he gives it a shot and starts chowing down. Most of the time, he’s a happy member of the clean plate club and it doesn’t matter what we’re having.
I think the routine of a family dinner makes dining out less of a shock to him. He sees my husband and I eat and basically mimics our behavior. He’s not exactly a master of utensils, but I do always give him a fork or spoon and he uses it to the best of his ability. When we talk and laugh, Daniel giggles afterwards as if he understood the context of the joke or situation. He’s used to sitting quietly, eating and laughing next to us. So, sitting in a high chair at a new place with new sounds, lights and people to see is just more entertainment to him.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that Daniel is just a tiny, future adult. I want to make transitions as easy as possible, just as much for my husband and I as Daniel. For example, even though he’s still pretty messy and operates a fork with about 50 percent accuracy. I still give him the fork. I don’t want him to eat with his hands for as he can remember and then introduce him to the concept of a fork, years later. I know that will just be more difficult for all involved. I want him to dine like a normal, civilized person one day and I think starting early is important. And like I mentioned, just plain easier.
We’ve taken Daniel out with us to restaurants since he was a newborn and found what works best for him, a lot of which we’ve learned through trial and error. More than anything, it’s just about preparation. If you take out a baby who’s exclusively breast or formula fed, you have to be prepared with their food. If you’re taking out a baby who needs entertainment, bring a little toy or something in with you. If dinner is after the baby’s normal bedtime, get a sitter or order take-out. Be flexible, but don’t set yourself up for disaster.
Now, has every dining experience we’ve had been positively lovely? No. I’ve nursed in cramped booths while trying to fed myself and keep up a conversation with my in-laws. We’ve consoled an overtired baby while boxing up our meals. We’ve left trails of Cheerios and apologetic tips. Not every dining experience with the little one in tow has been a positive one. But most are!
So, what do you think… should we expect more restaurants to reward us for having well behaved kids or should the restaurants expect our kids to be well behaved?