Tips for eating out with toddlers
In our house, eating at a restaurant is a treat for us. My husband and I like to spend time in the kitchen and cook together. We meal plan and put when we will be eating out on the calendar so that we can look forward to it. It allows us to budget for going out to eat and enjoy it. When we do go out to eat, we are prepared with things to keep our toddlers happy and entertained until the food comes. It has taken us some practice, but we now really enjoy our time out at restaurants with our boys.With some tips and gear, you can be successful too. You can have a fun, peaceful dinner without having to give your toddler your cell phone to entertain them. It can be done!
It starts with preparation at home before leaving.
Preview the menu.
Start with knowing where you will go to eat and familiarize yourself with the menu whether there is a kids menu or if there is something on the regular menu you think your kids will enjoy.
Then I would get some coloring books, crayons, and painters tape. - Yes, painters tape. It is a great way to have the paper from the coloring books to stick on the table without leaving any marks. Check out my toddler activities for travel post for some more cool ideas. We like to have Melissa & Doug Water Wow reusable color-with-water activity pad. Stanley loves these and we usually only take them when we are out of the house, so it is a fun treat.
Pack a little food.
Next we pack backup food and fruit in case it takes a long time for the food to come out. We have definitely learned that our young toddlers start to struggle when they are getting really hungry. I like to pack applesauce in a pouch so it is healthy but not too filling. If we are headed to the playground or something beforehand, we put it in a lunch box and add some ice packs. Don’t forget the milk if your child still needs milk at meal time. We pack Harvey’s milk if we go out to eat and he uses his normal go-to cup. We love the Take n’ Toss straw cups. They are cheap and if one gets left behind, it is okay. (it’s actually the only cup he likes to use for drinking milk). We try to bring a couple with us. Sometimes Stanley will also use one because the cups that the restaurant provides can be harder to handle.
Gather plates and cups that your toddlers are familiar with.
We pack their plates that stick to the table too so it is familiar. We have had the most success when they have their own plates, spoons, cups and water bottles. We love the Ezpz plate that has a built in placemat to go with it. It is a perfect size for dinner out, especially when you may be splitting a meal between kids. The Ezpz plates come with a durable bag to put them in when packing up. I just scrape off the food, pop in and pack away. This is a big help because before i always forgot a ziploc baggie to put dirty plates in. These plates are dishwasher safe so there is little clean up when you get home. During cold and flu season, you can never be too careful and clean.
Bring your own travel high chairs.
Next, pack the travel high chair. I know, I know, you are thinking, does she really take all of that to the restaurant? Yes, at least for the baby who is now 17 months old. He has had some feeding difficulties since birth, but has overcome them at 9 months of age. It is still a struggle sometimes, so we try to limit the variables.
With that being said, we took a travel high chair when our oldest was little. We took his high chair for different reasons. We have gone to restaurants in the past to find out they don’t have any high chairs available, and that can definitely derail the meal. We did not want the restaurant high chair to be a new toy or a distraction from eating his food. We take Harvey’s because we know it is clean (or at least just has his germs on it) and to keep it familiar. When we go to a certain restaurant (Chick-Fil-A) with Stanley, I bring a little booster seat cushion so he is table height. We pack this when we know there is not a booster seat there, but too big for a high chair.
When you get to the restaurant
When you arrive, get situated at your table first and get the activities for your kids out. Make sure everyone is happy then get the kids menus out and pick out what they will eat. That way if the server gets to the table, you can go ahead and get the kids’ order in so you are not waiting too long for the food to come out.
Knowing that their food is on the way, gives you time to relax and you can decide what you will have to eat and drink. If the kids are getting crabby, this is a good time to take out some fruit from home or whatever else you may have packed. Remember, make sure you do not look like you packed a three course meal, but let them eat if they need to. I always say, “set yourself and your kids up for success, not failure.”
Before the food comes, get the littles to the bathroom if they need to go or freshen up their diapers. (If they do not need to go, you should go so you can maybe eat a hot meal someone else cooked with few interruptions. Would that be wonderful?)
When the food comes out.
BONUS TIP:: We always pack a travel fan with us because when the food comes out it is hot and toddlers do not like hot food. It takes far less time to cool off food for a hungry crabby toddler with a rechargeable fan, than it does blowing on it. Just think, one day they will be grown and you will no longer need all of this stuff. But for now, pack it and be happy you did!
When the meal is almost complete, ask your server for the bill well before the littles are ready to no longer sit still. Next, grab your cash or card and be ready to look at the bill fast and hand it over. Once you have paid, pack it all up and head home to a clean house and get the littles ready for bed. (Sometimes we even make sure we have cash so that we can pay the bill and tip without having to wait for the waiter to make change).