While it will most likely be a challenge, it is definitely possible to eat out with your toddler. But just remember that when you take a toddler out to eat, they are a guest that finds it difficult to sit still, is prone to tantrums, and has no interest in fine cuisine.
With a little advance planning (and maybe a big change of expectations), you can enjoy a nice family meal out. Here are our tips for making the most of dining out with your toddler in tow. Hopefully they’ll help!
Choose a family-friendly restaurant
Make sure the restaurant has the essentials in advance – high chairs, a children’s menu, a nappy-changing station in the toilet and that they’re used to a little (or a lot of) noise and mess. Answers to those questions (note the tone in which they are answered, too!) should give you a good idea on whether the place will roll out the red carpet for you and your toddler or not.
Always be prepared!
Before you leave the house make sure you have your bags of tricks with you! The contents of your changing bag can make all the difference for you (and the other diners in the restaurant). So, along with the usual essentials such as nappies, wipes, bibs, extra clothes, add some of the below for distraction when needed:
- Beaker (in case the restaurant one isn’t suitable)
- Toys; think finger puppets and books (leave the noisy ones safely at home)
- Snacks such as rice cakes or some fruit just in case an impromptu starter is needed
- Your little one’s favourite cutlery
- Some paper/colouring book and crayons
While it is an easy option to keep them distracted, quiet and well behaved, try avoid giving your little one a smartphone or device while eating out. If you do they miss out on the experience of interacting with people, which is an important part of dining out and the sooner they learn that the better.
If you want time to actually eat your meal before a possible tantrum sets in or your toddler simply gets too tired, don’t delay your order. You might think it’s helpful to order your toddler’s meal first, but that tactic can backfire in the likely scenario that they finish eating before your food even arrives – and then you’ll have to try keep them occupied while you eat.
A better plan: Order together (don’t be shy about asking your waiter or waitress to put a rush on it) and use your bag of tricks to keep your toddler satisfied until the meal comes.
Another word to the wise: Check the restaurant’s menu online beforehand, to save precious minutes at the table.
Be Prepared To Leave
Try not to get too comfortable as even the best planned meal can turn into a complete disaster when an unpredictable toddler is involved. If things get bad and your toddler starts to have a public meltdown, you may have only one choice – take your food to go, pack up your toddler, and head home.
By recognising things are going bad and making the decision to go, you’ll save some stress & embarrassment for yourself, your little one, and everyone else in the restaurant.
It’s hard to remember your life before you had your little one, but try your best to remember what it was like trying to enjoy a meal with an unruly and disruptive toddler in the same area. Even if you’re at an inexpensive family restaurant, other customers have the right to enjoy a meal in relative peace. If your toddler is getting restless or agitated, take them outside for a minute or two to settle down.
If they still become loud and rowdy at the table, politely apologise to nearby diners as you walk out (you’ll be surprised how many will give an empathetic and understanding “been there” nod).