Going out to a restaurant can be a wonderful experience for families, allowing parents to take a break from cooking and enjoy some quality time together. However, dining out with a little one can sometimes feel like navigating a culinary minefield.
From unpredictable tantrums to messy mealtime mishaps, it can be challenging to ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. But there are ways to help things go smoothly. Here are a few practical tips and strategies to make eating out with your little one easier for everyone.
Dining Out with an Infant
Timing is everything.
Try to schedule your restaurant visit during your baby’s naptime or when they are generally more relaxed. If you’re lucky, they might even snooze through the entire dinner. Just let them snuggle serenely beside you in the carrier while you munch on your favorite apps and entrees.
Bring the bottles.
If you end up going out around your infant’s mealtime, bring along their dinner in a travel bowl or grab-and-go bottle tote. If you need to warm the bottle, ask your server for a cup of hot water. And be sure to check it before feeding to make sure the temperature is just right.
Pack the essentials.
Be sure to have all the necessary supplies at hand, such as diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes. You never know when a blowout or spill might occur, so preparation is key.
Ready for solid foods?
If you’re in the process of introducing solid foods, a silicone mesh feeder is a great way to keep your little one entertained, while also giving them a healthy snack. Pop a bite-sized morsel in there and let them safely play and gnaw away.
Dining out with a Toddler
Before going out, it’s a good idea to redefine in your mind what eating out will look like with a toddler. Young children can be unpredictable and have limited attention spans. It’s helpful to anticipate some level of restlessness and messiness. Those moments can actually be a great opportunity to help them learn appropriate behavior and good table manners, the same way you would teach them at home.
Choose the right time.
Similar to dining out with an infant, it helps to think about the timing. Try to plan your visit during non-peak hours to minimize wait times and avoid large crowds. Hangry toddlers don’t mix well with long lines!
Use on-the-go feeding gear.
If your toddler is a picky eater or you’re bringing along some just-in-case options, travel bowls and spoons are a life saver when you’re out and about. Divided compartments allow for multiple foods, and a tight-seal lid keeps the diaper bag mess-free too.
Make a reservation ahead of time so you can avoid waiting and your toddler getting restless. Look at the menu beforehand to save time deciding on and waiting for your food.
Opt for kid-friendly restaurants.
Look for restaurants that offer a family-friendly atmosphere and a menu with options suitable for children. (Although, you don’t always have to order off the kids’ menu!) Play areas, coloring sheets, and child-sized utensils can make a significant difference in keeping your little one engaged.
Don’t stress over food choices.
With all the distractions that come with eating out, now may not be the best time to get your toddler to try new foods. Choose something you know (or think) they’d like and keep it simple. You can even let them share your meal. Just ask for an extra plate and bring your own cup from home.
Bring snacks and distractions.
Pack your toddler’s favorite snacks, toys, or books to keep them occupied while waiting for the food to arrive. This can help prevent meltdowns and give you some breathing space.
Engage their curiosity.
Make dining out an educational experience by discussing the menu items, colors, and ingredients with your toddler. Encourage them to make choices within reasonable options, fostering their sense of independence.
Be prepared for spills and messes.
Let’s face it, toddlers are notorious for making a mess. Bring a few wipes or a small towel to mop up spills quickly. Nose and face wipes are great for cleaning up their adorable faces after the meal.
Remain calm and flexible.
Toddlers can be unpredictable, and things may not always go as planned. Stay calm and flexible, adapting to any situation that arises. Remember, a positive attitude is contagious, and your child will pick up on it.
Prepare your exit strategy.
Ask for the bill and takeout boxes early, even while everyone is still eating. That way you can make a fast getaway if things start to fall apart.
Eating out with a little one doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. With some preparation, patience, and a touch of creativity, you can create enjoyable and memorable moments for your family at your favorite restaurants. Try these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a pleasant dining experience where both you and your kiddo can savor the joy of eating out together. Bon appétit!