When you become a parent, your dining out experience is only one of the many many things that will change dramatically. Gone are the days when you could enjoy a three-course meal undisturbed and sip on your glass of Sauvignon without a care in the world. Oh no, there is nothing peaceful about going out for a meal with kids. In this instance, I’m talking about small kids specifically.
Dining out with a toddler isn’t a smooth ride, but there are ways around and steps you can take to make the whole experience more manageable. Maybe even enjoyable. Ok, perhaps I’m pushing it a bit too far when I say enjoyable. But you can certainly carry it through without losing your mind.
With some adjustments and planning, I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t take your toddler out for a meal. Here are some tips to help you deal with this new adventure.
Lower your expectations
As with anything involving babies and toddlers, don’t set your expectations too high. Otherwise, you are set for some major disappointment. Your toddler isn’t going to sit still while you enjoy your meal. Oh no, it’s not going to be the perfect dining experience.
After all, your little darling at this stage has discovered what the word independence means. And she/he is going to make the most of it. This only means one thing. The highchair is their worst enemy. Sitting still is no fun. Running around and exploring the place is way more exciting.
Choose the venue wisely
Please, please, please, for the sake of your sanity and sanity of your fellow diners, do not take your toddler to a posh restaurant. There are so many kid-friendly establishments, so in this instance, it’s best to pick something that’s more suitable to accommodate your energetic toddler.
Take her/him somewhere where they can move around more freely. Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to see kids running about when you are trying to enjoy a quiet meal with your spouse in a fancy restaurant. So why spoil a lunch, afternoon, evening, whatever, for someone else?
And trust me, McDonald’s or your local soft play venue, which you’ve probably visited thousands of times by now, isn’t your only option. Many bars, pubs, nice cafes, even some more laid-back restaurants and other eateries are child-friendly. Some places also have a small designated play area for kids. You just have to find these venues in your local area.
Order your food super fast
When dining out with a toddler, there is no time to be wasted. We all know that they will be bored before you have a chance to take your coat off, so things need to be a little bit faster than usual. Don’t try to study extensively every single ingredient from the menu.
Make it a priority to order as soon as possible to limit the waiting time for your toddler. If you are familiar with the menu before you make your way in, that’s even better. Otherwise, pick the first thing that sounds familiar and just go for it. Now isn’t the best time to be picky and start reading all the delicious and enticing options.
Order food that’s fast to cook
Following on previous note, choice of the food you order is also important. Well done fillet steak is probably not the best option when dining out with a toddler. Get something that’s relatively easy and fast to cook. You can even tell the staff to bring your child’s food as soon as it’s ready. No need to wait until everything else is cooked.
And for your child, I would also get something you know they like. Leave introducing new tastes and ingredients for the home environment. Or at least make sure part of their meal is familiar to your toddler, so they have something to pick on, even if they don’t like the full dish.
Avoid busy times
The quieter the place is, the better. Firstly, fewer people potentially means fewer annoyed diners. You will feel more relaxed and less anxious about your little ones often unpredictable behaviour. If the venue isn’t busy, and there aren’t many people around, you can let your toddler have a little wander. Let her/him explore a bit but make sure she /he isn’t in the way of the waiting staff, or anywhere inappropriate, for example, where they could smash something.
Also, if the kitchen isn’t too busy, your meal will arrive quickly. Yet another reason to come out during quiet times. Early afternoons might be a good time to go out. The lunch rush is over, while the evening busy time is still at least a couple of hours away.
Remember the entertainment
You will need a lot of entertainment. Some family-friendly places will have crayons and paper, even some small toys but don’t rely on that. Bring your own entertainment as well.
Playing some of her favourite tunes or movie on your phone can buy you some precious time while you wait for the meal. Just be mindful of your surroundings and keep the volume down. No one expects to listen to Twinkle twinkle little star when going out for a meal. Although, I would much rather listen to that than to a screaming toddler having a full-blown tantrum. But you get the idea.
Clean up your mess
We all know kids are messy. That’s a fact. Before you know it, there will be chips, crayons, and all sorts of crumbs all over the floor. In fact, more food will end up on the floor than in their bellies. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave the place in disarray. I know, it’s not your job to clean up the area, and maybe you have to go in a hurry, but leaving a disaster zone behind just isn’t cool.
I don’t expect other people to clean up the mess of my child. I’m not talking about leaving the place spotless, but picking up big pieces with a baby wipe only takes seconds to do. So, even if you’re in a rush, just clean up what you can.
I think we all want to be liked by the places we frequent and showing at least some effort goes a long way.
Do you take your toddler out for a meal? Any more tips to share? Leave them below.