It’s a classic conundrum. You’re tired of cooking. You’d like to avoid washing dishes for at least one night. Plus, the idea of someone preparing food for your family and serving it to you at a table pretty much sounds like the lap of luxury at this point. But is it worth it to bring a toddler to a restaurant? Will your talkative 2-year-old be able to keep their cool for an hour? What if they have a meltdown? Will other patrons complain? Will they eat what’s on the menu? How do we make the magic food appear without disturbing the peace?!
These are all valid concerns when considering the possibility of eating out with little ones. However, shielding your kiddo from public dining situations isn’t doing them any favors. In fact, learning how to behave in different environments is good practice for a toddler. Going out to lunch or dinner every once in a while can actually help build their confidence and social skills. But in order to make your restaurant experience a little more delightful, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve!
Make a Reservation
Expecting a toddler to keep it together through a meal is one thing, but making them wait for a table is a totally different story. Full-grown adults have a hard time waiting for more than 20-minutes to be seated. Imagine what that can do to a toddler? Having a table ready for you when you arrive can make the experience a lot smoother.
Choose the Right Establishment
You might love the local sushi restaurant, but is it the right choice for a toddler? If you can’t visualize your toddler there without complete mayhem, then it’s probably not the right place. Fine dining, crowded brunch spots, or the hottest new bistro will have to wait until you get a babysitter. Shoot for a kid-friendly place, especially if it’s your toddler’s first time dining out with the family.
Plan Around Sleep Schedules
Bringing a tired toddler into a restaurant is the best way to never, ever, ever have the urge to eat out ever again. A public meltdown can really ruin your appetite, so planning your meal around their sleep schedule is a smart move. It’s also a good idea to plan an active but calming activity before you go. Something as simple as taking a short walk with the stroller can help put a toddler in the restaurant zone.
While reservations can secure you a great spot in a restaurant, no one ever knows when the food will actually arrive. Having healthy snacks readily available is a must when dining out with a toddler.
Have Distractions Ready
Sometimes life calls for grabbing a phone or tablet to distract a toddler when you’re out and about. However, it’s always a good idea to avoid too much screen time for toddlers, especially around mealtimes. Other options to try: Fill your bag with coloring books, crayons, finger puppets, blocks, or other small toys that can provide a little bit of fun that doesn’t involve staring blankly at a screen. In addition, the BabySparks app has tons of great activities that you can do while you’re waiting for those chicken fingers. You can play ‘Recalling an Adventure’ and talk about what they did that day. You can ask them to sing their ‘Song of the Week’. Or, with a small container and a few cheerios, you can play ‘One by One, Two by Two’ to pass the time.
As soon as your food arrives, pay the bill early. You never know when the tides can turn! It’s a safe way to ensure that you’re ready to go when your toddler’s ready to go, and that could happen at any second. Lastly, remember to thank all of the servers who cleaned up the crumbs and provided you with pleasant smiles throughout the meal. You may want to try this again one day! Being kind and respectful to the restaurant staff can go a long way.
Dining out with your toddler doesn’t have to be scary. It’s a small but special act that little ones should get to experience every once in a while. With a little preparation and a little practice, you and your toddler will be enjoying meals all over town!