At some point, the local fast food restaurants with brightly colored indoor playgrounds and characters begin to take a toll on parents. After all, how many times can you eat a sandwich from a wax paper wrap and fries before it becomes blasé? Chances are you know the answer. You may be thinking (dreaming really) about visiting a sit-down restaurant where your tea will come in a real glass and the plates are made of something other than paper. Plus, you don’t want to be stuck at home every Friday night because you don’t have a babysitter. Many parents are fearful of taking their toddler out to dinner with the reality being that it is like anything else in life. When you accustom your child to the environment, they will adapt. Rather than approach eating out with apprehension – approach it with excitement and as if it is going to be a positive experience. What’s the harm in a little positive thinking? The truth is, eating out with your toddler is a real possibility as long as you take the proper precautions and follow a few simple rules.
- Plan your time carefully. The best time to eat out at a restaurant with a toddler is early in the evening. Rather than risk the heavy crowds of ‘date traffic’, choose to eat while the senior specials are going on. Your wait times will be less and 90% of everyone at the restaurant will think your toddler is the belle of the ball rather than a heathen.
- Choose a restaurant that has kid friendly choices. Kids are creatures of habit and you definitely want to visit a restaurant that has some old standbys. At the same time, don’t be afraid to challenge their palette with some new foods that can make the dining experience truly unique. Let them taste foods off your plate and visit the salad bar (attended of course) to sample some new tastes.
- Choose a booth! It is much easier to contain a wiggly toddler inside a booth than it is at a table. If you choose a booth, your toddler won’t be confined to the high-chair for the length of the meal and can sit close to you without impeding your ability to eat.
- Order your toddler a special treat. Make the experience exciting for them as well. Ordering them a coke float or a special virgin margarita (complete with a fancy glass) can make them feel very special. Don’t forget dessert either.
- Step out of parenting mode for a few minutes. Don’t spend the entire meal prodding your toddler to eat their vegetables, drink their milk, and finish their food. This will cause you and your toddler to feel stressed.
- Go over the rules before you go. Your toddler should be able to follow basic rules of the road. By being clear about what you expect and how your child should act, they will work hard to meet your expectations.
- Make sure your toddler has had their nap. In other words, don’t plan the event on a day that has already been full of too many activities and leaves your toddler fussy.
- Bring some to-do activities. One idea is to visit a dollar store and buy a few toys that will be new and interesting to your toddler. Present them to your child at dinner. Also, have a snack bag in your purse and a kid friendly cup for them to use that will help them bide their time.
Going out to dinner to a fancy restaurant can be a new family tradition for you and your family. Consider your child and try to choose both places and times that will work best with their personality. Empower your child to be a ‘big kid’ and you may be surprised how well they act. If the unthinkable happens and your child throws a fit or chucks a piece of broccoli across the dining area; take heart – every parent has been where you are now. It certainly isn’t the end of the world and it shouldn’t be the end of your fine dining adventures.
What do you think? Tips for Taking Your Toddler Out to Eat