Going out to eat with a toddler can be an exhausting task. At this stage of life, children are learning to eat new foods and feed themselves. They’re becoming more proficient at communicating and they often have meltdowns or fits when they feel restrained or frustrated.
So while it’s exciting to see how your child is growing and learning, it can also be quite messy and loud! Don’t let that keep you from having a meal out occasionally. Here are some ways you can make a trip to your favorite restaurant more enjoyable.
It probably isn’t a great idea to choose a fancy, sit-down, candlelit restaurant for your toddler to start off. Choose a location that is kid-friendly and offers faster service. If you teach your toddler how to behave well in a restaurant they’ll have a better skills set to know what to do next time.
Don’t go when tired
If you or your child is particularly tired, going out to eat may not be the best idea. An overly-tired toddler has more difficulty being restrained to a chair and less patience with waiting for food.
If you’re already out and you notice your child getting restless, take them for a little walk to the restroom. Sometimes a little change of scenery can do everyone some good.
Take a toddler bag
A toddler bag is a great thing to have packed and leave in the car. That way, you’re always prepared during a trip out to eat. While there are lots of things you might include, here are some items we’d suggest are particularly helpful for a child between the ages of 1-3
Wipes and diapers
Well, this is an obvious need at this stage of the game. You’ll definitely need an extra diaper or two, but the wipes come in handy for much more than diaper changes. Wiping sticky fingers, table-top toys and your bib or fork and spoon will keep your messes to a minimum.
Bib and eating utensils
By this stage of life, children want to learn to eat on their own. Depending on the age of your child, this may be a challenge. Having a bib handy will help reduce messes on your child’s clothes and the plastic fork and spoon can be both entertaining (during wait times) and helpful for your child as they learn to use utensils correctly.
Small (non-electronic toys)
Large blocks, puzzles, board books, finger puppets, or crayons and paper are some great items to have in your bag. Toys with lots of tiny pieces aren’t a great idea unless you like playing the pick-up game (which is admittedly entertaining to small children but can get old really quickly). Take one item out at a time to show your child how to use their time wisely while waiting. If he or she is getting restless or bored, trade out the toy for something new.
An extra outfit
This is especially helpful if you need to go somewhere after visiting the restaurant. If you do happen to have a mess on your hands, you can change clothes before you leave. Having an extra outfit will reduce your stress because you’ve got a backup plan in case you need it.
Other helpful suggestions
The best way to keep your child engaged is to talk to them. Even if you have no toys or extra items in your bag to entertainment them with, you can teach them how to be creative and have fun while you wait for your food.
- Play “I Spy” and look for objects of a certain color
- Talk about your favorite foods on the menu
- Point and describe pictures on the wall or in the menu
- Play Patty Cake or sing a favorite song together
No matter what happens on your trip out, remember that new experiences are a learning opportunity. If your restaurant visit doesn’t turn out just right, don’t give up. Be consistent with your expectations and positive behaviors and your child will learn soon enough what to do when you go out to eat. You’ll be enjoying a nice dinner together in no time!