As the weather warms and the days get longer, it’s just a reminder that picnic season is almost here. You know, the time when your kids take one bite, run off and play, take another bite, play, and on and on until you notice that at the end of an hour their dinner has barely been touched.
Now, here’s where I’m always a little torn. Yes, I want them to eat but hey, they just want to climb a tree or throw rocks in the lake. Is that really so bad? I mean, getting kids (and parents) to play more outside is what I’m all about. Argh, maybe it will be okay just one time.
Then the whining starts. The tantrums begin. Tears start to flow. Oh yes, that’s why they need to eat dinner. Little bodies simply cannot run a million miles a minute without good healthy food to fuel them up.
Here’s the problem: how do you actually get kids to sit still long enough to eat a meal outside? The solution is really quite simple – restraint and practice.
We’ll start small (as in with small kids). When you have an infant, like ours, who is just starting to eat on their own restraint is key. Babies need to have their own safe space to eat their food, just as much as you want to go home without being covered from head to toe in squash handprints. Trust me, we’ve tried the “oh it won’t be that bad, I’ll just hold them on my lap”
approach. NO! It really is that bad.
Our new favorite product to hold kids still? The Joovy Hook. Like the name implies it simply hooks onto a picnic table and can be secured to hold baby still. Okay, baby isn’t quite accurate. The Hook can hold up to 37 pounds. This is a great piece of gear to have when your preschool age child doesn’t quite understand why they should sit still and eat (yes, we’ve tried that). Yes, it’s brilliant. A piece of baby gear that you could potentially use until they are 4 (and will save your sanity every time you picnic).
If you won’t be eating where there is a picnic table, we’ve had lots of success with portable chair-top booster seats with trays. These are a great option when you don’t have a regular table to put kids at (though putting them close to the ground also makes the dirt accessible…). They don’t fold up as small as the Hook, but are usually quite light.
The next key to getting your kids to sit still while eating outside is practice. Starting young with something like the Joovy Hook or a booster seat is a great way to do things. By the time your kids have outgrown it, they should be old enough to follow rules. In our family, whenever we eat outside (which is every day in the summer) we start each meal with the requirements of how much they have to eat before they can play (typically, you must eat all of 2 things on your plate and 5 bites of anything else). That way, we always have something to refer back to and it helps cut back on whining.
Another way to practice is to start small. If you have a child who is especially prone to running off and jumping in puddles (which is a totally awesome thing), introduce them to eating outside with a few snacks. Once they can sit still eating that, gradually increase your food until you’ve got a full blown dinner going on within just a few days.
Soon kids will see that if they are willing to follow a few rules and hold still while eating, they will be rewarded with more outdoor meals – a win win for all!
More about the Hook by Joovy. It comes in 3 awesome colors and folds up into a nice little bag. SUPER easy to take when headed out on a car adventure. This is ideal in cases where a picnic table is involved. In our experience, there were several regular dining tables that it didn’t fit onto correctly (the spacing was off and your couldn’t extend the bars to secure it). You can get it here.