7 Tips for Bringing Kids to Ethnic Restaurants and Others Without Children’s Menus

7 Tips for Bringing Kids to Ethnic and Other Restaurants without Kids Menus. Want to bring your kids to more restaurants but uncertain if they'll eat anything or be able to sit still? Check out these tips! (Photo: Ethiopian food in background)

“Where do you want to eat?” Anyone who has ever gone to a restaurant with their family has faced this question, probably followed by a drawn-out conversation about likes, dislikes, convenience, and whatever dish you got there last time. If you have young children, you may automatically exclude whole categories from consideration. You may never even consider bringing kids to ethnic restaurants and others without children’s menus.

But if you’ve always longed to check out that new Indian place but don’t want to spend money on a babysitter, there may be hope. It’s actually easier to bring kids to restaurants that don’t specifically cater to families than you think.

While it may seem intimidating, I’ve successfully brought my toddler to restaurants that specialize in a variety of cuisines, including fancy Italian, Ethiopian, Peruvian, and Japanese food.

Here are a few tips that can help:

Give your kids the benefit of the doubt

They may be more adventurous eaters than you think! There’s nothing about being a kid that guarantees they must eat only fried foods and pizza. After all, Italian kids eat blood soup and Chinese kids eat pigs ears. (Not all of them, of course.) My four-year-old actually likes spicier food than I do. He dips his pizza crust in hot sauce!

Use a food they already like as a hook

My son will eat pretty much anything with noodles in it. This opens up a whole world beyond American-Italian food, with pho and ramen in the mix. Similarly, because he loves peas, he was willing to try an Indian dish with peas slathered in tomato sauce.

Look up menus online ahead of time

Most restaurants post their menus online now. If you’re nervous that your kid won’t find anything they like, take a look before you go.

Find food that’s fun to eat

Even if the tastes aren’t familiar, kids will enjoy bite-sized food or ones that have similar tactile appeal. Ethiopian food is typically eaten without utensils, with the diners using hunks of squishy bread to scoop up the sauces. Edamame at Japanese restaurants is fun to pop out of its pods. Despite his aforementioned love of noodles, my son ignored his ramen to spend all night popping out the little beans. If your kids are older, teach them how to use chopsticks. Traditional Chinese and Japanese restaurants will supply them. You can even buy beginner chopsticks that help kids learn and bring them along!

Walk around and look at the decorations

Many family-run restaurants, especially those focused on the food of a specific culture, have vibrant, elaborate decorations. Chinese restaurants often have beautiful wall hangings and cats that roll their eyes back and forth. A Cuban restaurant near us has names and photos of hundreds of famous Cuban-Americans plastering its walls. If your kid is antsy at the table, walking around can often have a calming influence.

Pick an ethnic restaurant with an open kitchen

Kids are automatically more engaged when they can watch the food being made. My son loves watching cooks slide wood-fired pizzas into the oven and sushi chefs construct rolls. It’s also a good way to spend time while you’re waiting for the food to be served.

Embrace small plates

Tapas and dim sum places are great to bring kids because every dish is kids’ sized. They can be hard on your wallet, but at least you aren’t paying for a full adult meal. Plus, if your kid doesn’t like what they ordered, there are a lot of other choices to try.

How well these tactics will work depend on your kid’s level of comfort for trying new things and sensitivities to taste and texture. But trying something new is worth a try. It’s only one meal and you never know what you or they will like!

Check out our experiences bringing Sprout to an Ethiopian restaurant when he was two. To follow our successes and (sometimes hilarious) failures, be sure to follow us on Facebook!




6 thoughts on “7 Tips for Bringing Kids to Ethnic Restaurants and Others Without Children’s Menus

  1. Thanks for these suggestions. My son has always preferred the adult menu because the kids menu is so often such sad little plates of crappy food. But our favorite Chinese restaurant is the one with Kraft macaroni and cheese on the menu! 🙂 Tapas is a great idea. I’ll have to look for a tapas place around here.

  2. This is great advice! I liked most types of ethnic foods as a child, and my partner and I have learned to cook some of them at home, so it was obvious to us that our kids should try a wide variety of foods. Here’s what we had for dinners for 4 weeks when our youngest was 8 months old. Our older child has been complaining in the past year or so that we make too many “exotic” foods and he wants us to “eat like normal people”–but then when I ask him what he wants us to make, he suggests things like Thai lemongrass coconut soup! 😀

  3. I really like the idea of ordering something that has something your kid already likes. I’ve been thinking about taking my 5-year-old to a Chinese restaurant for the first time, but am unsure as to how he will handle it. I’ll be sure to consider your food tips!

  4. My kids (now 4 and 6) are in no way adventurous eaters but we take them out to ethnic restaurants or get takeaway. They love rice, naan bread (you can get ones with yummy sultana/coconut filling), mango lassi at indian restaurants (they have only now started eating some of the meat from mild curries). Satay sticks, spring rolls and pad thai at the thai restaurant. Chinese Yum Cha because they can see what they are choosing – they liked fried rice, dumplings, pork buns, spring rolls, mango pancakes and red bean paste balls. They also love sushi because you can see everything you want to order. We went to a Greek restaurant the other night and the ordered a banquet and once again they enjoyed just choosing from the middle of the table and trying new things even if they didn’t like them (dolmadas!). They did enjoy the calamari, haloumi, bread, dips, different meat skewers, melon. They wouldn’t try the baby octopus though!

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