Tips for dining out with toddlers
Even if your toddler is a healthy and non-picky eater, going out to a restaurant for a meal with them in tow can be, ahem, an adventure. Watching out for tantrums, trying to keep toddler boredom at bay, and worrying about what the table of diners next to you is thinking about your parenting style can all take away from the fun.
Rest assured, however, it is possible to enjoy a nice meal out with your toddler—you just have to work a little harder than you did on your pre-kid date-night meals. It’s important for your own sanity to get out a bit and take a break from cooking, and it’s great practice for toddlers to learn appropriate behavior and get comfortable in social settings. So, it’s worth it.
Here, we’ve got the best tips for dining out with toddlers so you can all actually enjoy the experience.
Tips for dining out with toddlers
Timing is key! For your own sake, and the sake of everyone in the restaurant, picking the right time to dine out with toddlers is crucial. Don’t make brunch or lunch reservations for a time when your toddler would typically be napping, and don’t go for dinner too late when they will start to get tired and cranky. Also, it’s best to avoid the peak meal-time rush when a restaurant will be at its busiest. That might mean an earlier breakfast or dinner time than you’d typically choose, but trust us, it’s the right plan.
Stick to family-friendly restaurants. Your first meal out with your toddler is not the time to try that new hotspot that just opened. (Ditto the Michelin-starred celebrity chef place that happened to have a cancellation.) Pick restaurants where the waitstaff is used to serving kids and toddlers and the clientele will not be put off by your presence. That doesn’t mean you’re relegated to Mickey D’s all the time, though. Look for family-run places like bistros, pizzerias, diners, or breweries that are likely to have kid’s menus, family-friendly tables and booths, and plenty of room to roam.
Bring entertainment. We’re not going to weigh in on the great debate about whether or not to bring screens to restaurants as babysitters—but we will say you need to pack some forms of entertainment to keep your toddler amused. Experts recommend packing a restaurant kit or “busy bag” with things like small books, a puzzle or two, cars or other small toys, and something to draw with. (Think of soft and small toys that won’t roll away and onto the less-than-spotless restaurant floor constantly.) And, we recommend saving a toy or two for after you eat to buy some time when you want to relax and digest (or while waiting for the check).
Whenever possible, select a strategic spot in the restaurant. Request a table that is away from the front door (too many people coming in and out could be distracting and/or overstimulating for your toddler) and other busy areas like the hostess stand or the kitchen door. Booths are great when available as they give you more room to stretch out, and if you can find a spot where your toddler can easily get up from the table and talk a walk, even better.
Pro tip: Rent the Inglesina Fast Table Chair from Loop to make setting up your toddler's seat at the restaurant a breeze!
Toddler-proof your table. Take away silverware and on-table extras that your toddler might be tempted to play with (although stacking butter, syrup, and ketchup packets can be good distractions in a pinch if they’ve already cycled through all the toys you’ve brought!) so you don’t have to worry about those distractions.
Check out the menu ahead of time. Dining out with a toddler is all about speed. The last thing you want to do is waste precious time before they start to melt down on food choices. Most restaurants today post their menus online, so make your selections ahead of time and be prepared to order as soon as you are seated. Keep your selections simple, too. No elaborate multi-course dinners here; just a good solid entrée that you can enjoy quickly.
Don’t stress about food choices. Eating out is not the time to experiment with new food choices that your toddler might not like, or to be overly focused on making them eat every bite. The point of dining out with toddlers is to feed them, yes, but also for the greater social value. Keep in mind they may also be too distracted to eat much so it’s wise to order something you can share, try an appetizer portion, or select something from the kid’s menu. You may also want to bring some of your toddler’s favorite snacks with you in case all else fails.
Follow these tips for dining out with toddlers and you should be able to enjoy a nice family meal without having to cook. The bonding time together and the socialization experience for your toddler is important, even if your restaurant stay isn’t the most relaxing ever. You always have date night for that…