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Dining out with your toddler

Son at Oceanaire Seafood Room Miami
Son at Oceanaire Seafood Room Miami

I know I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to being prepared, but it usually saves me when I’m out. I say ‘usually’ because he is 2, after all.

I try to always bring a ‘meal setup’ when we’ll be eating away from home. Neat Solutions makes an awesome product
that I can’t always find in stores, but we offer it here through our Best Kid-Friendly Travel Store. Just drop the shrink-wrapped sippy-cup filled with silverware, placemat and a bib, into your bag and go! In a pinch, you can put your own items in a zip-top bag. At the very least, I ALWAYS have a disposable stick-on placemat
in my bag for an impromptu meal on the go. The waitstaff really appreciates a prepared parent, which results in even better service for you.

Bring to the restaurant:

  • Toppers To-Go Feeding Kit
    (or make your own: sippy cup, disposable placemat, disposable child-size silverware, bib)
  • baby wipes
  • pack of 4 crayons and mini coloring book, or stencils and pen and paper
  • small toys, or sticker book
  • juice box or individual serving of milk/soymilk, and crackers
  • I found that the restaurant beverage offerings for toddlers are surprisingly slim, and too acidic for my little one. Most of the juices from the bar are: orange, cranberry, or lemonade-type. I don’t give my little guy carbonated beverages just yet, and he can’t drink cow’s milk, so I just bring my own. You may have more flexibility.

At the table:

  • Be realistic with your expectations for your child’s behavior. Most kids can’t sit still for a 2-hour, multi-course meal. (Although, mine eats so slowly, these are ideal.) You should try to be in and out within 45 minutes to give kids the best chance for success in the restaurant. It’s sometimes helpful to pay the bill when your food comes, although, tell the server that you’re not quite ready to leave, so they don’t get antsy while you finish your meal.
  • Break out a toy right away, but hold off on the beverage and snack for at least a few minutes. Bring out toys one at a time, as needed. This will buy you more time for your meal if you know you’ve got another something in your bag.
  • Have your child’s meal come out ‘as soon as it’s ready’. Order it when you order your beverages. If you order appetizers as a separate course (which I don’t recommend unless your child is a very slow eater), have your toddler’s meal come out with them.
  • Involve your child in as many decisions as possible, or at least talk them through what’s going on around them. Mine is much more cooperative when he feels he’s involved.
  • Choose a meal you think they’ll actually eat. Let them tell the server their order… you may need to translate. Try to round out their meal by giving them some of your vegetables or the oranges from your Chinese chicken salad. 🙂 You can probably order a side for them, for a price, but if you’re not sure if they’ll eat it, just share.

Above all, keep a positive attitude. Your job as a parent is only to provide healthy and balanced meals, not force them to eat. Let your little entertainer shine! Relax and enjoy that someone else is doing the cooking!

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