Tips on Dining Out with a Toddler
SHARED by: Christine Knight, Founder of Brunch with my Baby
Dining with toddlers is not a relaxing experience, yet we still persevere to maintain some semblance of our old lives. This will not be the best meal out you have ever had, but still, you’ll feel good that you got the family out of the house or that you were able to at least catch up for a few minutes with a friend. If you’re planning on eating at a restaurant with your toddler, here are some survival tips to help make it through the meal – and to to be invited back again.
1. Choosing the Restaurant
Pick a restaurant that either takes reservations, or that will be relatively quiet when you want to go. Toddlers, much like hungry adult males, do not like to wait for a table. Check out Brunch With My Baby for suggestions on baby and toddler-friendly restaurants in your neighborhood. If there is a playground near by, even better, so your toddler can run off that excess energy first (or in case of emergencies, can be carried there while you wait for you food).
2. What to Bring
Unless you know for certain that a huge stroller is welcome, bring an umbrella stroller or carrier. Bring the usuals (diapers, wipes, spare clothes) plus extra snacks, a sippy cup and a quiet activity that will entertain your toddler, like crayons, a new book or small toy. Leave the musical instruments (like shakers) at home. We download new iPhone apps and videos in case the service is slow and we run out of other options. The YouTube video, “Elmo’s Song” will always buy us a bit of extra time.
3. Ordering Meals
For toddlers, the kids menu is a colossal waste of money, as well as usually being pretty boring (chicken nuggets and grilled cheese, anyone?). We usually order a side of bread and fries as soon as we sit down for our toddler to snack on, and at least one of us will order a meal that she can share, like an omelette and homefries. Perhaps it is not the most nutritious meal your toddler has eaten that week, but this is not about Baby’s First Piece of Broccoli so much as it is a chance for you to escape. Ask for a plastic cup with a lid and straw, filled with water and ice cubes. This is guaranteed to provide at least a few minutes of fun and won’t leave a stain if it gets spilled. Avoid juice unless you want a toddler jumping out of their skin for the rest of the afternoon on a sugar high!
4. Eating the Meal
Basically, now is not the time to savor your meal or send the dish back if it’s not perfect. Just eat as fast as possible while your child is briefly occupied, taking turns with your partner to take the kid for a walk if they start whining so you each get to finish your meal.
5. Dealing with Wait Staff
Ask for the check as soon as your main dishes arrive. Let the wait staff know that the reason you are rushing out is because the toddler has a limited attention span and is not because you have had a horrible time and can’t wait to leave. Try to clean up a bit if there is an explosion of Cheerios or sugar packets left in your toddler’s wake, and be sure to leave a big tip, particularly if your toddler was on the whiney or tantrumy side that day.
6. Leave Quickly
Get out before your toddler completely melts down and ruins any good impressions that you’ve made. Divide and conquer with your partner – one gets the stroller ready, the other puts the child’s coat on and snaps her into the stroller before she can object too much. Roll on out of there and congratulate yourself on a successful meal out with your toddler.
Christine Knight is a writer, editor and marketing strategist. She’s the founder of the foodie-parenting website Brunch with my Baby, blogs at A Kiss Goodnight, Tweets, Pins and Instagrams (@clt) about life with her very speedy toddler.