Parents’ Guide To Fancy Dining With Picky Eaters

Fine dining with the kiddos can present a few difficulties for parents, and the single most common challenge with young children is picky eating. According to pediatricians at Harvard and the University of Michigan this is a normal part of asserting independence, but how do you address the challenge when it is out in public and the menu doesn’t read like their favorite fast food combo meal?


First thing’s first – young children are not being picky just to be difficult. It’s entirely possible that kids are more sensitive to certain tastes, smells, and textures, while also tending to be a little more risk averse. Plus, certain foods bring comfort to them in an uncomfortable situation. Truth be told, there is not any definitive evidence one way or the other.

The only thing everyone agrees on: expect your kids to be a little picky when eating outside of their comfort zone. But don’t worry – having picky eaters is not a death sentence to fine and fancy dining. Below are some of the best tips and tricks to make a fun evening out of persuading your kids to try something new beyond their predictable favorites.

Go Over The Menu Early 

Trying new things isn’t always easy. If you have a fussy eater in the family, giving them the tools to feel comfortable before heading out can help reduce some of the anxiety around picking a meal. Look at the menu together before going to the restaurant. If you think they might like something, ask them how that sounds to them.

Take advantage of modern times too, by using the internet as a terrific resource. Maybe you want to look up what the meal looks like through social media or Google reviews. Visual menus go a long way in helping out your picky eater. Don’t be surprised if they still want to mull things over at the restaurant, but by preparing ahead of time it gives you options to steer the decision-making process and avoid escalating to thermonuclear levels of public conflict.

Start Cooking More Gourmet Dishes at Home 

Another at-home method that can help pave the way is introducing some of those gourmet items at your own dinner table. Nobody is asking you to prepare to beat Bobby Flay, but maybe he has some recipes you want to experiment with. This is a great way to expand your children’s pallet without the stress and pressure of doing it out in public where you might disturb other guests.

What you prepare for the little ones doesn’t need to be high-stakes, eat-it-or-else meals either. Getting a picky eater to try something new is never easy but lowering the pressure by having alternatives or a reward available (both covered more below) can increase curiosity. Treat this like a chance to learn about something new (even connecting a food to a fun story like mom and dad’s first date) and you can make dishes that were previously unapproachable in the fine dining setting now feel comfortable, normal, and familiar. Best case scenario: your picky eater might even turn into a curious foodie who enjoys a fancy meal out.

Try starting with one of these three kid-friendly gourmet dishes:

Bacon Mac n’ Cheese:

a little twist to almost every kid’s favorite. Don’t just crumble bacon bits on your favorite boxed brand, try your hand at a baked macaroni and cheese using a more unique pasta like cavatappi (ie corkscrew noodles). If this is a success, then next time you can even try including pureed butternut squash.

Sea Bass

maybe your kids are fish-averse due to that distinct sea-faring creature flavor, but trust us that Sea Bass could be a game changer. Try it grilled for all the char of a burger without the lingering ocean water taste!

Filet Mignon:

when in doubt, a nice center cut steak is a great way to help kids graduate into fine dining. With less fat but lots of flavor, they’ll probably love it if you don’t leave it too bloody.

Eventually, your child will not only be able to eat but also fully appreciate the shimofuri marbling of certified A5 Kobe Beef at B&B Butchers Steakhouse. Until then, everyone has to start somewhere, and these are a few good starters to get them headed in the right direction.

Simplify the Language 

Sometimes a picky eater just doesn’t want to try something that sounds weird. Many fine dining menu items can be simplified to more familiar foods, making your picky eater’s decision-making process a little easier. Sure, you lose out on the nuance of pomme frites, but at the end of the day that’s just French for fried potatoes. Reading the menu with your kids and answering questions, you can even make the “fancy” terms a joke between the two of you.

Incentivize Trying New Things

Rewards are one of the great ways to motivate and encourage your kids. There is no need to feel guilty about incentivizing your picky eater to try something new when out for fine dining. Remember, this is a special meal and treating it that way helps children better understand what behaviors work in these situations. Maybe there is a movie they have wanted to see, or if they try a few bites of something new and finish all their veggies, they can have some dessert (or pick out a favorite dessert place to stop and pick something up from on the way home).

Finding what motivates your kid to try something new is as simple as asking them what they think it’s worth – just be prepared to do a little bartering. Not only will this get them to try something new, but it helps them feel like they have some say and control over what they get to eat.

Pick a Kid-Friendly Location

As Bill & Ted’s favorite philosopher put it: Know Thyself, or in this case, know your children. Enjoying a fine dining experience is almost as much about atmosphere and ambiance as it is about the food. This is true for kids and adults alike, and just because you’re looking for fine-dining, doesn’t mean you can’t find a kid-friendly atmosphere.

Think about the type of setting your kids might enjoy. Maybe eating al fresco provides enough options to make it a fun experience for the kids – same goes for having a little extra space for when they get squirmy, not needing to worry about an accidentally spilt drink, and a spot where a few toys could be played with. These might be nice ways to make it enjoyable for everyone in the family. However you want to approach it, knowing and anticipating how your kids will act and react can make fine dining fun too.

Bring Back-up Snacks 

We’ve all heard the phrase: Pick your battles. Maybe food is one of those hills you want to die on, but don’t be afraid to rely on a fallback option when trying to enjoy high-end dining. Even with a picky eater, a night out at a fancy restaurant can be one of those core memories of family fun. You can always work on gaining ground in that battle another night.

Start with releasing yourself from needing to meet certain expectations and remember, picky eaters are not refusing to eat out of spite. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do, and your picky eater’s heels are dug too far in: It’s okay – you can always try again another night (maybe at-home even).

Now, a lot of restaurants have a “no outside food” policy, but there are often exceptions in the case of young children. Just make sure you discuss with the staff ahead of time (when you are making reservations) and know that you have something they will eat in your back pocket.

One last point on the value of bringing a snack they will eat: hungry kids struggle to think, concentrate, and control their emotions. A snack might be all they need to reconsider what’s on the menu.