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Family dinners & dining out

5 Benefits of Eating Out as a Family

By Erica Patino

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When kids have trouble with attention, self-control and social skills, eating out as a family can be challenging. But whether it’s a nice meal or a quick bite, dining out has real benefits, too.

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A mother offers her daughter a taste of her food at an outdoor meal
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Eating out encourages flexibility.

Many kids don’t like trying new things, especially food. And those with sensory or flexibility issues may find it extra difficult. But it’s good for kids to have different experiences. If your child won’t order anything new for herself, see if she’ll have just one bite of your dish. Low-stakes opportunities like this will help her learn that it’s important keep an open mind. You can do this at home, too, when you cook new things.

Young boy and his grandfather discussing the menu at a sidewalk cafe
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Eating out creates distraction-free family time.

With everyone on different schedules, it can be tough to carve out time together at home. Even dinner can be a rush. But eating in a restaurant can slow things down. It may also be easier for kids with attention issues since there aren’t distractions like the TV, phone or pets to pull them away from the table. Plus, eating out can become another family tradition, whether it’s a weekly trip to the pizza parlor or birthday dinner at a favorite restaurant.

Father and his young son enjoying a dish of ice cream together outside a restaurant
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Eating out can be a small treat or a big celebration.

Going out to eat can be a treat for a special event, like a birthday, graduation or holiday. But it can also be a reward for good behavior or a way to acknowledge your kids’ efforts. You don’t need to splurge on a fancy meal. Just going out for ice cream could be enough to show them you’ve noticed the hard work they’ve done at school, at art class or on the sports field.

A young boy ordering at an ice cream shop
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Eating out builds social skills and manners.

For kids with self-control or social skills issues, dining out can be a great practice ground. It provides many opportunities to work on weaknesses. That includes everything from interacting with wait staff to waiting patiently for the food to come out. It’s also a good way to point out social cues that other people are sending. Being in any public place, not just in restaurants, can help kids improve their social skills and impulse control.

Mother having a one on one conversation at a family restaurant
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Eating out can improve communication skills.

The meals you eat at restaurants usually last longer than the ones you have at home. So conversations may be longer, too. This can give your child a chance to work on her conversation skills and learn new words. In fact, according to the Family Dinner Project, dinner conversation can help kids build their vocabularies. At a restaurant or at home, try to kick off a longer conversation with a question like, “What was the best part of your day today?”

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Understood does not endorse or receive financial compensation for the sale of any of these products.

About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is the author of 7 Steps for Success: High School to College Transition Strategies for Students with Disabilities.

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