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Dining Out With Toddlers

Updated on June 22, 2011

Once they get past the quiet, sleeping baby phase, it can be difficult to go out with toddlers. They jump and play, scream and run around, throw tantrums and generally embarass their parents. It's just easier to stay at home until they get past this phase and dining out becomes a thing of the past. It doesn't have to be that way. With a few adjustments and some pre-planning, you can still enjoy the occasional meal out and teach your toddler some table manners, too.

The Right Place and The Right Time

You want to make sure to pick a kid-friendly restaurant, but it doesn't have to be fast food. Children can learn to appreciate the relaxed atmsphere of a sit-down restaurant. You can look up the menus of places online and see if they have kids' items. If they do, you can bet they will be used to dealing with rowdy toddlers and won't frown on parents who bring their children.

If there aren't any kids' menus, it doesn't mean they don't allow children, but they may not be as tolerant of the noise and messes. You might want to pass on those places until you have a babsitter and can enjoy an adult-only meal.

The time you choose to eat is important, too. You would consider your toddler's naptime and when they are in the best mood to sit still. But also consider timing for the restaurant. You wouldn't want to go when you'd be standing in line or when service was slow because they were busy. Adults get frustrated during those times, so you can imagine a toddler getting bored.

Tips to Curb Rowdy Behavior

1. Seating.

Most restaurants offer you a high chair for your little one. If they don't offer, you shouldn't be afraid to ask. However, I will ask if they have a booth available instead and then put my toddler on the inside seat. She prefers this "big girl seating" to being stuck in a high chair. Another benefit is that she isn't out in the path of waiters and other customers to grab them or throw food on them. And you only have one side of the child to worry about since the wall will prevent them from getting away from you or throwing stuff. The one thing you do have to worry about is that they have better access to what's on the table. But I've found that it isn't too much of a problem if I keep everything on my other side. Also don't be afraid to ask the waiter to hold off on serving the entree until you're finished with the salad or appetizer.

2. Prevent boredom.

Ask the waiter for a package of crackers if it will be awhile before your food comes out. That way your toddler can be entertained until he can eat. I also try to choose less messy food or something I know she will enjoy and eat without getting distracted. Sometimes that may mean less healthy choices like french fries, but once in awhile it won't hurt them. And it will probably entertain them better than the kind of food they eat all of the time.

Often waiters will bring crayons and a paper for kids to color on. I find this doesn't work real well with my toddler because she'd rather eat them than play with them. One idea is to bring small toys for them to play with that they don't get to use at home. It will hold their interest longer than something they play with all the time. And if you forget to bring something, look for things at the table for them to play with. My little one loves the straw and lid of her milk that the waiter brings to her. I'll take it off the cup and clean it up a bit and let her play with it. Often something like this will hold their attention until the food comes out.

Bon Appetit!

With a few adjustments, you can still enjoy a meal out occasionally. Of course, this won't work every time and their will be fits from an unhappy toddler. In the midst of your embarassment, just remember that this isn't the first time the wait staff and other customers have seen this kind of behavior so it's probably not a big deal to them. Anyone with kids will sympathize with you. And as with all things at this age, "this too shall pass".


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