How to Survive Dining Out With Toddlers

Going out to eat with your family is a great way to enjoy each other’s company and keep your connections strong. If you’ve got a toddler, however, eating out is an entirely new ballgame. Parents all over the world have stressed out at some point because of taking their toddler to a restaurant. Many parents simply choose to call a babysitter and leave their child out of the equation when going out to eat for dinner or another special meal.

Keeping your toddler away from restaurants until he’s an adult isn’t a realistic solution for most people. Finding someone to babysit your child every time you want to go out to eat can be difficult, and sticking to only fast food restaurants when your child is young can be underwhelming. Trying new cuisine and visiting your favorite eating establishments are great ways to help your child learn some valuable life and social skills. Here are some ways you can make a restaurant meal experience with your toddler much more enjoyable for all.

Family of four having meal at a restaurant

Family of four having meal at a restaurant

Start Teaching Manners at Home

If you want to eat at a restaurant, you’ve got to start by teaching your child about good table manners. Young toddlers may want to explore the different textures of their food by playing with it and throwing it on the floor. Or, they may pick up the entire plate and fling it across the room. Make sure you discourage this kind of behavior to prepare your little one for a restaurant setting. You can also try using bowls and plates that suction to the table to keep things more stable.

Prepare Your Child for Success

After table manners are starting to go well, you can help your child get ready even more by talking about restaurants and food service in general. Teach your child about the different people working at a restaurant, such as waiters, bussers, hostesses, and managers. Get them excited about the prospect of going to a new place by setting your behavior expectations in place as well. Explain how it’s not okay to throw things and that food must be eaten and not played with. Consider adding an incentive to your first visit to a restaurant with your toddler.

Pick the Right Restaurant

You’ve also got to give yourself more of a fighting chance for success by choosing the right restaurant. Research the menu ahead of time, and plan out what your family will order. Make sure you choose a place that has a set kid’s menu you can order your child’s meal from. If you see a children’s menu included, you can expect the business is kid-friendly. Avoid places that seem too over the top or serve specialized cuisine that isn’t appealing to your child.

Time Your Meal Based on Your Toddler’s Routine

Another way to help improve your chances of actually succeeding when you bring your toddler to a restaurant is to time it well. Avoid going to out to eat for dinner after your toddler’s bedtime. Otherwise, you’ll be in a world of pain. It may be better to choose to go out for breakfast or brunch right after your toddler wakes up in the morning so you can take advantage of his good mood. Another bad idea that some moms experiment with is skipping the afternoon nap so you can go to a late lunch or early dinner. This typically ends up with more behavior issues and more meltdowns, so strive to keep your child’s routine the same as always.

Bring a Selection of Essentials

When you’re finally ready to leave your house and go to the restaurant, try packing a backpack or diaper bag with essentials to make the experience more pleasant. This way, you won’t need to chase your child around a crowded dining room. Here are a few things to consider adding to your restaurant packing list for toddlers:

  • Extra Diapers and Wipes
  • Dry Cereal or Snack Foods
  • Coloring Pages and Crayons
  • An Extra Outfit to Change Into
  • Toddler Utensils
  • Portable Placemat
  • Sippy Cups for Drinks

Ask for Your Toddler’s Food First

When it’s finally time to actually step foot into the restaurant, do whatever you can to get seated quickly by either making reservations ahead of time or going when the restaurant is slow. Ask for a high chair, and thoroughly check to see the straps work and clean it off for your toddler. If your child knows what he wants to order, ask the waiter if the toddler’s food could come out first. While everyone waits for the food, pull out some of your activities from your bag to keep your child from melting down and embarrassing you and your family.

little boy and toddler girl drinking coconut cocktail

little boy and toddler girl drinking coconut cocktail

Offer Plenty of Praise for Good Behavior

As things start to unfold, you’ve got to keep your child motivated to display good behavior. Start by verbally praising your toddler every time he makes the right choice at the table of the restaurant. Your little one may start to get excited about demonstrating great restaurant manners if you make the experience positive. Be prepared with a few small treats to give to your toddler as he masters each part of the restaurant routine. Eventually, he may start to show excellent manners without you having to do much more.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Your Food To-Go

The last tip to take into consideration is to worry less about what other people think. Thinking about the challenges of taking toddlers to a restaurant shows you care about how your children act. There are some times, though, that no matter what you do or what you ask for, your child isn’t having it. These major meltdowns are sometimes difficult to predict, so don’t blame yourself or your lack of preparation if your first restaurant trip ends in tears. In most situations, simply ask for your food to be wrapped up to-go and get the check.

Taking your toddler to a restaurant doesn’t have to be a dream anymore if you consider these tips. Take this full test of bravery on and face your fears about dining with toddlers. Learn more about other families’ challenges in restaurants by following KAMO on Twitter at @kamo_family, on Facebook or by logging into Instagram and searching for the term kamofamily.

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