Meals out with children can be challenging. Meals out with children on holiday can be enough to test the patience of a saint. I am not a saint and my patience is a fragile, easily broken kind of thing. There are several reasons why the holiday dinner table is a little more stressful for me. The main one is my own ludicrous expectations. I am on holiday. I have looked forward to it for a disproportional length of time. I have dreamed of sitting outside some picturesque Tuscan restaurant, warm in the last, golden rays of the day, the cicadas chirping with a large glass of chilled wine surrounded by my tanned and happy family. It’s never quite like that.

Firstly,the usual bed time for the little ones will have come and gone. They are tired, hungry and want food now. No leisurely perusing of the menu, looking up of interesting local dishes in my pocket dictionary and pondering over which bottle of wine to choose. It’s head down into the menu, locate the meals that they will eat and look around hopefully for a waitress who will take our order in my stumbling Italian as quickly as possible.

It is at this point that I would hope for interesting discussion about that day’s activities. How does the Leaning Tower lean that far without falling over? Wasn’t it beautiful at the top of the Campanile? What Italian words did you learn today? To be fair, my elder two are up for that type of conversation and enjoy the ” What was the best bit of today?” chat. But the little ones just want food. Now.

Fortunately, there is often some kind of distraction for the kids and they all desert the table to play on the swings and charm the locals. And briefly my dream becomes a reality. I take a sip of wine, admire the view and start up a conversation with my husband about how lovely Tuscany is and when it may be feasible to move here. And then they are back, dusty and demanding pizza.

As the meal progresses we get louder and louder. That would generally be fine in Italy. They like big families and children and don’t seem to mind the noise that they create. But of course, in the main the restaurant is populated by middle class English families with two teenage children who spend the whole meal texting or scowling at their sibling and so make no noise at all. My stress levels mount as I struggle to maintain some level of decorum but nevertheless drinks get spilled, wasps get swatted with great gusto and eventually all my fellow diners can hear is me making ever louder shushing noises in an unsuccessful attempt to maintain order. I know I am on holiday and should go with the flow but that really isn’t one of my life skills.

We have pudding and what my youngest doesn’t eat he tries to secret in my handbag for later. No lingering over coffee. It’s home for bed and story before they get too grumpy. All in all as meals go it is a success. Everyone is fed and watered without me having to lift a finger. It’s not been quite as relaxing as I might have hoped but it does get easier with every passing holiday. And ultimately in that kind of setting I am guaranteed to have a lovely time no matter what.