Well…..we had a good run A nice, solid 20 months (and roughly 400 dining experiences) where the formula I created to manage taking Teddy out to eat (with, of course, tweaks all the time as he got older) no longer worked. A few weeks ago we had a real eye opener – it involved screaming, a shattered glass, and, for the first time, a table of childless hipsters asking to be reseated away from us. In Teddy’s defense, the only thing that happened in between when the childless hipsters arrived and when they asked to move seats was the breaking glass. I mean, dude relax. But still.
So I went home and thought about exactly what had gone wrong and what we could do to adjust our routine. Alex and I LOVE eating out and it’s an important part of our life. We want to be able to do it as a family, an I refuse to become one of those families that “just can’t take him out to eat for a few years”. Because you know what? Anything is possible if you’re prepared – that’s probably the most important thing I’ve learned as a parent. So here are my tips for making the transition from dining out with babies to dining out with toddlers. All the baby rules still apply, with these added parameters!
Size Up The Environment
I think our biggest mistake during The Incident was taking Teddy to a restaurant that really just was the opposite of kid friendly. Truly, that didn’t matter with a BABY, but with a toddler, it does. If for no other reason that you will be more comfortable in an environment where if the nugget DOES decide to have a meltdown, you’re not in a sleek, stone-walled sushi restaurant dodging dirty looks by people on their anniversary dates. Ask friends where they take their kids out – restaurants that are used to having kids and toddlers are a safe bet – and plenty of nice, cool restaurants cater to the entire family.
Try The Bar or Lounge
We’ve had great success recently taking Teddy to restaurants that have a bar or lounge. If there is space for them to toddle around safely while you eat, it’s amazing! Usually these areas are more relaxed and casual, often with a cheaper menu, and most importantly, louder – so kids making some noise or banging on a table phases no one. You get all those benefits while still feeling like you’re in a grown up environment.
Skip The Kids Menu
There are 3 big downfalls of a kids menu that I’ve discovered at the toddler stage – they are much more expensive than bringing your own food, they are limited in their options and nutritional value, and the food comes out all at once, on a massive plate, usually piping hot. For a toddler who wants to wiggle around, have activity and distraction, and is HUNGRY – that last one recipe for disaster. Instead, pack your tot’s dinner in several different boxes in courses. We love the Eco Box Lunchbox Set from SunnyLife, but there are so many on the market to choose from. What I do now is pack his dinner in courses – one I give right when we arrive at the restaurant (typically a vegetable – best chance he’ll eat it if it’s first!), than a second course (usually meat or starch) when our adult meals arrive, and a final course (fruit, raisins, etc) near the end of the meal – the most “fun” item to keep him occupied as time progresses and he’s more likely to get restless.
Bring Back Up Distractions
This is probably obvious, but come prepared with age appropriate distractions – whether you’re using screens (make sure it’s charged), coloring books (don’t forget the crayons) or in our family’s case – 1-2 board books for Teddy to read/bang on.
Engage Them In The Conversation
Have you ever seen a toddler out, whining and fussing while the parents chat, until one of them turns to the child, exasperated, and says something like “just sit down!” “stop that!”. Well wouldn’t you be bored and annoying too if you were at dinner and everyone was ignoring you? Toddlers just need MORE in the way of communication than babies do, and I’ve started to realize that meals go much more smoothly when we’re playing and interacting with Teddy – not just feeding him food and toys in between our own conversation. A little peek-a-boo can go a long way.
What have you done to adjust your eating out routine as baby gets older? Share with us in the comments!