Family Eating Out

Apr 1, 2010

Eating Out Toddler Style

OK, let’s face it, the days of casually dining out on a whim are temporarily over. Packing everything including the kitchen sink is required when taking a baby to a restaurant.

Category: Family Eating Out
Posted by: Clare

And the point is, they’ve got a kitchen sink there. As for dining out with a toddler! Well, Mums and Dads truly deserve honours for remaining composed, tolerant and patient with their culinary challenge. Taking our cherished yet unpredictable children to any eating establishment can be a daunting thought and puts many people off. But it doesn’t need to be. Just remember to be prepared for the unexpected.

For Starters - Be Prepared
Find out in advance how the restaurant caters for your family needs.  The last you thing you want with baby or toddler in tow is to jump from one restaurant to the next in search of a venue that openly accepts children. To save time waiting for food, you may fancy heading for a family friendly restaurant or one that serves a buffet. Check if there is a children’s menu and if they provide high chairs. And aim to dine out when the restaurant is quiet, reserving a table avoiding the busiest times.

It’s easier to eat out with a baby straight after a feed, so that as they rest contentedly, you can benefit from some quality time to enjoy your meal. Toddlers have a restless energy and it is difficult to get them to sit still, so allow them to expend some of it beforehand by taking them to a park or playground. Many child-friendly restaurants have soft play areas or ball pools that are magnets for little ones. But be aware that the lure of bright colours and heightened activity in that area can be a distraction for any toddler and lead them away from the dining table. Also, as any parent knows, remember to pack that bag of essentials, such as nappies, a bib and the multi-purpose but oh-so important wet wipes.

Many restaurants tempt customers by offering organic baby food or at the very least they will warm up a bottle of milk or baby food for you. If you opt for a less child-orientated restaurant, make sure there are baby changing facilities and ample room to park buggies next to the tables.

At The Restaurant
When you arrive at the restaurant, ask for a table in the corner or in a booth. That way, if your toddler plays up you are less likely to be centre of attention. Use the highchairs provided, but if your little one blatantly refuses to sit in one, make sure you have the car booster seat handy to prop him or her up.

Whilst You Are Waiting
A 5 minute wait for a toddler feels like a lifetime, so if you don’t want to be faced with a child that lies or stands or hangs upside down on the seats, distraction is on the menu! Some good restaurants provide children’s activity packs, but it’s always best to take your own in case they have run out. Activity books full of simple puzzles, pictures to colour in and spot the difference should provide enough of a distraction and are easy to carry. Easy magnetic games are also good to take along with you, and you are less likely to lose the pieces. Pack a small bag of healthy snacks such as carrot or cucumber sticks in case the meal is late. And take a small beaker of water with you, as too much sugary drink before a meal will fill them up and give them even more restless energy!

Encouraging Good Dining Manners
It’s hard to teach such young children good table manners, but small actions taught at this age will help as they grow older. Reinforce good manners by setting an example. Here are some simple guidelines that may help:

  • Encourage them to wipe their face and fingers with a napkin
  • Explain to them that it’s not acceptable to jump on the seats or throw food, however funny they may find it.
  • If you are with other adults include your child in the conversation.
  • Make your child aware of other diners who will not want to hear loud screechy sounds.
  • Finally, try to remain calm! Remember that the parents with the well-behaved children on the next-door table will at some point have endured toddler training and all its challenges as well!

Money Saving Ideas:

  1. If you have two or more children you can save your pennies by getting them to share one meal. And, rather than buying dessert, you can tell them that they’ll get a pudding or some ice cream when they get home - usually enough to appease them. Besides, small children are usually too distracted by all the sights, smells and sounds of a restaurant to eat a lot.
  2. Look for Children Eat For Free offers and Buy-One-Get-One-Free deals in the local press.
  3. Instead of ordering from the main menu, choose a side dish for your children.