This is a guest post is by Judith Klein Rich of the Eaty Pie Blog.
“Do you want to meet for dinner?” asks your carefree (aka child-free) friend who checks out a new restaurant as often as you dine in. While there’s nothing more that you’d want to do, the dreaded thought of your rambunctious toddler causing havoc makes you cringe at the prospect.
Bringing a toddler out with you to a restaurant can no doubt be tricky and sometimes downright stressful - but remember that their unpredictable behavior is developmentally normal - and there are positive ways you can turn the experience around and make it fun. I’m a fan of dining in with little ones and I cook our family meals regularly, however, I do enjoy going out at least once a week to create some variety in our routine. Make no mistake, as a mom of a 3 ½-year-old and a 16-month-old, I’ve had a pull a few rabbits out of my proverbial hat when dining out, but I’ve also found a few things that have consistently worked that I’d like to share with you, here.
These are my 9 Tips for Dining Out with Your Toddler:
1). Don’t come hungry
I know this may sound counterproductive since you are going to a restaurant after all, but trust me on this one. The hungrier those little mouths are, the harder time you will have keeping them happy and content. Make sure they eat a little something before going out to eat where it’s not guaranteed they’ll love the food or in the event that service is slow. I recommend something healthy and satisfying such as a little peanut butter on a rice cracker, avocado or some cheese. Fruit is often a good snack option, too.
2). Mix old with new
Trying new foods in a completely new setting can be intimidating for little ones, so make sure you bring a little piece of home with you. By that, I mean a food that you know your kid enjoys and that will make them feel comfortable. Whether that means bringing their favorite crackers or granola mix with you, or even that leftover waffle from breakfast, do it! And at the same time, don’t be afraid to order something new and interesting as well! Since they’ll have their favorite food to fall back on, your chances of success will be greater.
3). Have back-up activities
While some restaurants do a great job at keeping little hands busy with crayons and coloring sheets or in some cases even dedicated play areas, make sure you have something in your reserve. Little things such as activity pads, dinosaur figurines (or whatever your kid is into). Small puzzles or chewing toys for babies can be especially helpful.
4). Move around
Mostly relevant for new walkers who are proud to show off their skills, it’s important to offer the opportunity to move freely around the restaurant when needed. I recommend doing this after placing your order to break up what can seem like a long wait. Hold your toddler’s hand when parading them around the restaurant, so they don’t run amok into unwanted places or bump into anything that can cause harm (like a pot of hot coffee).
5). Try pretty food
There’s a reason the saying “you eat with your eyes first” holds true for most of us - even your little ones. Visually stimulating foods arouse the senses, making little mouths water and those curious hands reach out to touch it. This is definitely a good thing, so do order those pancakes with an edible flower on top, a colorful burrito bowl or even that bright green avocado toast with all the fixings on top!
6). Avoid crowded places
The more crowded the restaurant, the greater the chance of not-so-great service and that can be tough for kids - not to mention their parents. Instead, choose a good, dependable restaurant where you know you can get a reservation or be seated without much wait. Eliminating any uncertainties when dining out with your kiddos is always a good strategy and helps ensure that everyone will enjoy it.
7). Bring a change of clothes
Let’s face it, most kids aren’t the neatest eaters and will probably get messy when dining out. Instead of being super conscious of everything they’re putting in their mouths and how they’re eating it, relax a bit and let them enjoy it their own way. But make sure you bring at least one change of clothes in case you get the spilled milk on your hands (literally).
8). Pack your utensils
Even though your child may be super dextrous and comfortable using adult size utensils, it’s usually a good idea to bring your own so they can actually focus on enjoying the food, rather than figuring out how to get it in their mouths. There’s a few good options out there that are not only compact but also eco-friendly such as bamboo silicone tipped spoons. I also find these travel-sized suction bowls really helpful.
9). Be social
Just because you’re dining with young kids doesn’t mean you have to sequester yourself in a lonely corner. After all, little ones need to learn to how to be social and to conduct themselves appropriately when dining out. Seeing other people enjoying their food and dining in public is a good example and also makes the experience more fun for everyone. And, who doesn’t love a cute toddler sending a smile or a wave their way?
So the next time you get that tempting dinner invitation, you can absolutely, positively and confidently say “yes!”
Now that you’ve got your essential dining out tips, it’s time to get out there and enjoy some delicious food destinations.
For my personal suggestions, you can check out my blog, Eaty Pie, featuring a vast variety of Portland restaurant reviews with lots of photos, recommended dishes and a quick hit list of kid and grown-up wins. Feel free to connect with me on social media via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fooditka/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eatypiepdx/ or Twitter: https://twitter.com/eatypie