Eating Out with a Toddler

My daughter’s eyes search the tabletop in the restaurant. I race her for any potential projectiles or breakables that her sticky fingers can reach. I immediately remove the small plate in front of her. As I put the cutlery away, she lunges for the salt shaker and instinctively turns it over. When she sees gravity expel the salt from the shaker a look of wonderment overcomes her little face. Now I have to extinguish that look.

It sucks, but the alternative is a mound of salt on the table, broken plates, and a fork in my arm. I wish I could be stronger. I wish I could say, “Yes, restaurant patrons that is my daughter making a scene in the restaurant. I know you wish we didn’t come out here, but we’re humans too! We want to pay $10 for salmon chowder without any salmon in it!”

But I’m not strong enough to withstand the looks from those patrons who didn’t ask for deafening cries with their fish and chips. So, I break the seal for the plays to run when eating with toddler in a restaurant:

Preparation and the Restaurant Kit

The battle starts before you sit at the table. Give your toddler something to do while the adults don’t talk about Daniel Tiger or Paw Patrol. Bring paper and crayons. If you don’t mind hunting for stickers around your table at the end of your meal, have some stickers on hand too.

Until our Little Beast Mode masters cutlery, we will bring wet wipes. She prefers eating with her hands and in our experience she’s immune to sticky hands. It’s amazing. She uses her hands to pick up noodles, chicken wings and fruit; and she never feels they get sticky!

Some restaurants are familiar with the destructive nature of children. These restaurants have learned to supply kids with plastic cups. In case we go to a restaurant who hasn’t learned their lesson, we bring our little one her own cup.

Order Appetizers Immediately

Now that you’re seated at the table, order appetizers immediately. Nothing quiets down my hungry Little Beast Mode more than food.

This serves a dual purpose. You get food to your little one (and you) quicker. And you hurry the whole restaurant experience for everyone.

No tablets. No screens. No problem.

We don’t give our Little Beast Mode a tablet or our phones at the dinner table. We try everything else before we get to this place. We’ve never been that desperate and she’s never been that terrible. We walk her around the restaurant. We distract her with various games. We let her perform magic tricks with the napkins.

A restaurant can be a big ask for a toddler with the curiosity of a… well, a toddler. We give her quite a bit of leeway, but we want her to learn to socialize and behave in a positive manner. To us, that means no screens at the table.

My family loves to go to restaurants. We don’t plan on stopping because it makes us or other people uncomfortable. We do want to make the experience as tantrum-free as possible.

So to all the parents who are too scared to take their kids to a restaurant: Chin up. Be proud. Prepare and remember that just because you’re a parent, doesn’t mean you can’t pay for overrated unimaginative food and a crisp craft beer.

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