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Eating Out With a Toddler

Eating out with a toddler can be a stressful situation – for everyone involved. Children don’t enjoy sitting still for long periods of time, waiting for food to come, or being quiet. So, keeping everyone happy & calm in a restaurant can feel like hard work for parents. The whole point of eating out is to have a break from cooking & to enjoy yourselves – not to inhale your food before the toddler kicks off. With a little planning ahead & a few tricks, you can all enjoy your meal out!

Preparation is Key

1.  Tell the toddler that you are going out to eat & what’s expected of them in the restaurant.

It takes time for children to learn restaurant manners, but I think starting to tell children about what’s expected from a young age is helpful. As they get older they will get better & better so long as they know what’s expected of them.

–  Explain that in restaurants people speak in a quiet voice. Whisper as you say it & ask the toddler to try out their quiet voice. This takes a lot of practice & maturity to master talking quietly in restaurants so don’t have high expectations.

–  Tell the toddler that they get to eat some new yummy food! It’s going to be lots of fun & we will all sit at the table together to eat. There’s no getting up & going around in a restaurant.

2.  Pack a bag of tricks.

My 2-year-old daughter loves handbags (no idea where she got that from). I gave her one of my little handbags & filled it with small toys. I keep it in the closet & bring it when we go out to eat or are travelling. She loves putting it over her shoulder like Mommy. The toys keep her happy for a while because she only sees them on special occasions. For boys, a large pencil case works great.

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Choose a few toys that can move or do something. The Lottie doll is great as our daughter takes her clothes off & puts them back on. The little doggie goes in & out of the tin. She can drive the tractor or plane. She can see different shapes & images through the fish & camera. She loves putting on her ring & bracelet.

3.  Pack the nappy bag.

  • Even if the toddler is toilet trained, it’s a good idea to have a change of clothes & wipes handy.

  • Have a backup plan because the toys will stop being fun at some stage. Pre iPhones & tablets I used to bring a second round of toys, but they would always end up being thrown all over the floor. Now, I hand over the LeapPad or my iPhone & let them watch their favorite cartoon.

  • Don’t leave the house without snacks – this is the toddler golden rule. If the food is delayed or if they are still hungry after refusing to eat the restaurant food, you can start pulling out snacks. If you have a really fussy eater, consider packing a dinner from home that s/he enjoys eating.

  • Bring their sippy cup. You can re-fill at the restaurant but it’s much safer than drinking from a glass.

At the Restaurant

1.  Follow through with the rules of quiet talking (to a certain extent) & no getting up. This isn’t easy but if the toddler is allowed to run around the restaurant, they will want to do that every time. It disturbs other customers & makes it difficult for the wait staff to do their jobs.

2.  A hungry toddler is a ticking time bomb so order the kids meals to come out first or with your starters. If the food is taking too long, dip into your snack stash.

3.  If your toddler doesn’t enjoy the high chair then let them sit on your lap until the food comes out. If your toddler is very active & really hates sitting down, after you order, let one parent walk around outside until the food comes.

4.  Keep them busy with their bag of tricks while they are waiting for the food & after they are finished.

5.  There is no harm in bribery – tell them that they can have yummy ice cream or dessert when everyone is done eating if they eat their dinner. The same works for while you are having your main course, they can play with their toys or electronic device until dessert time. In a really desperate situation, order their ice cream to come during your main course.

6.  Have your nappy bag at arms reach for when the toys stop being fun & they don’t want to eat anymore. Grab the backup plan & hopefully they will be happy to watch cartoons for a few minutes.

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My boys (aged 8 & 6) bring small toys to the restaurant still & it keeps them happy while waiting for their food. Plus, they enjoy playing little games with their sister. Eating out with a toddler can be really lovely & fun for the whole family.

Do you have any tips to add?

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