I know, I know: we all somewhat dread it. Your toddler is just that…a toddler. And there is simply no possible way to accurately predict how he or she will behave in public on any given day. Even if all the stars are aligned, and your toddler has had a good nap, is in a good mood, and is ready to go out in public, there is still a possibility that a meltdown will occur in a very public restaurant.
But you know what? That’s okay. Mama’s gotta eat, and sometimes, making dinner just isn’t going to happen. Here are a few tips and tricks to make going out to eat with a toddler just a little bit easier.
1. Start them young!
I always took my infants with me everywhere. Grocery shopping, errand running, traveling, and yes, out to eat. Getting a child out and about while they’re young really does help to build a child who is flexible, adaptable, and has a solid understanding of social norms. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but I’ve largely found it to be true.
2. Pack a couple of favorite toys and activities.
Most restaurants do offer a kid’s menu, and often provide crayons to color with. These may entertain your child for a little while, but you will need backup! As a last resort, when going out to eat with a toddler, I will allow them to use my phone in a restaurant setting, but my personal preference is to offer multiple other activities first.
Eating is a social activity in our family, and I want my toddler to be engaged as much as I want my teenager to be engaged! When the crayons have lost their luster, pull out anything else your child loves: cars, trains, dolls, stickers, finger puppets, books, anything that buys you a few more minutes.
3. Order your food as soon as possible after you sit down.
For a hungry toddler, waiting for food is often the hardest part of going out to eat! Servers are typically more than willing to oblige. If you check the menu ahead of time, you can be prepared to order when you arrive. Packing a light snack can also take the edge off your hangry toddler.
4. Choose restaurants that you know your child enjoys or are at least somewhat family-friendly.
By no means am I advising you to stick to fast food! Your kiddos diversify their eating habits by sampling new things. AND you have every right, as adults, to eat adult food! That being said, you know you will be embarrassed if your toddler throws a fit in a fancy restaurant full of adult diners. And your precious little unregulated toddler can’t really help it. Set yourself up for success by choosing restaurants that you know other children will be in. A couple of restaurants that our family frequents offer other fun activities, in addition to crayons. There’s a gourmet pizza place nearby that brings raw dough for kids to play with, and a burger place that brings every kiddo a small appetizer before their meal. As a mom, I always appreciate these thoughtful touches!
Inevitably, there will be a time when you are going out to eat with a toddler that you will be the mom with a tantrum-throwing child in a restaurant. And when you see another mom with a toddler having a tantrum, smile at her! Give her a word of encouragement, and remind her that she’s not alone.