One thing that can be difficult to do for a child with Autism is dining out. There are so many factors that can make a simple thing like eating at a restaurant turn into a meltdown. Things like smells, crowds, wait times and limited foods your child will eat on the menu. Over the past few years, I have started to realize what may help my son to have a better experience eating out. I wanted to share some of those tips with you all.
Here are 8 tips of mine to help make dining out with your child a bit more fun and hopefully even meltdown free!
1.) Go to restaurants on slower days and times. For my son, along with many other children with Autism, waiting can be almost painful to them. One thing I learned was to try to eat out on nights that are less crowded, like mid-week and also times that are less likely to have a wait, like having a late lunch or early dinner. When we do this, we almost always have been able to get seated with little to no wait at all.
2.) Plan Ahead Online. If your child is as picky an eater as mine, you know that most places seem to not carry what they’ll eat. Before we go out to eat, I will look up the restaurant online and browse their menu, to see if there are foods there for Billy. This saves us the trouble of being seated and realizing he won’t eat anything there. It also gives me a chance to see if maybe something in the restaurant would overwhelm him, like fire at a hibachi place.
3.) Bring Snacks. Another thing I always do is bring snacks with me. Just in case he gets hungry while we wait for our dishes, or he won’t eat the food we ordered. I try to bring some chips, crackers, apple sauce and things like that. I also pack some lollipops, because I know those can usually keep him happy for awhile!
4.) Make Sure To Pack Some Toys/Tablet/Phone. I also make sure to bring my cell phone, because I have several apps my son plays on it, some fidget toys and a few of his trains with us. These items usually guarantee he will be happy for a while.
5.) Ask To Get Their Food Out First. This is actually something I did even when my daughter was a toddler. I would always order her food first and ask that it be brought out as soon as it was done. I now do the same with my son. This allows him to start eating earlier and also gives him more time to finish his meal. He eats a lot slower than the rest of us, so it’s good he has that extra time to eat.
6.) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For What You May Need. If your child will only eat their hot dog boiled, maybe they like their eggs cooked really well or, like my son, will only eat certain pastas, don’t be afraid to ask if they can make an exception this one time. We went out just last week to Rainforest Cafe and my son won’t eat the twirly pasta on their kids menu. I noticed they had linguini on their menu and was told that isn’t for kids. I explained that my son won’t eat the other and my waitress spoke to the chef, who was super kind and said he would absolutely make the linguini for my son. He made us a child’s plate of it, gave him a small garlic bread and also allowed us to choose a side, which of course we got him fries! My son ate a ton of food that night and I left smiling! Many places will help you with anything, you just have to ask!
7.) Take A Small Break If Needed. If I notice my son is starting to get too overwhelmed, my husband or I will take him for a small walk. Sometimes we go to the bathroom and just wash our hands, we go walk around the restaurant & look at the decor or we take a small walk outside for some air. Usually just getting up and taking that quick 5 minute break can really help. It seems to settle my son and we are able to go back & finish eating.
8.) Enjoy The Meal Time, No Matter What! I have learned that not every time we go out to eat will end up perfect and that is okay. Just try to enjoy dining out with your child, whether they have a great time or a meltdown occurs. Know that it is okay… Try to have a good time just being out!
Now not all of these may work for everyone, but I have found these tips have made dining out with my son a lot easier. Last year, we would go out to eat and he would have sensory overload. It was meltdowns the whole time we tried to dine out or he wouldn’t eat anything. I found following these few tips that I have here, he is having a much easier time when we eat somewhere now. It makes it more enjoyable for him and for me. I am always so happy when I know he is having a good time! I hope these tips help others as much as they help me!
Do you have any tips for dining out with your child that you’d like to share? Leave a comment with your tip.. Happy Dining Everyone!!