Many parents tend to avoid taking their young children out to eat with them. Why? It could be because they are fearful of a tantrum, the inability to keep them engaged and quite while waiting for their food, and/or the lack of organization when it comes to dining outside of your home, which has everything you need (unlike a restaurant). If you’re in need of some tips for dining out with your young children, read on to change up what you’re currently doing, and make the experience more pleasurable (and successful) for everyone!
Make a Restaurant BoxIn order to keep your toddlers on their toes and engaged while food is cooking, consider making a restaurant box. All you need is an empty shoe box that you can wrap in paper or decorate with stickers. Each time you go out to dinner, fill it with something new. It can hold books, crayons, cars, Legos, the sky is the limit. Your child will never know what to expect and will love opening up this “present,” as well as play with all its contents.
Make it funTry your best to make eating out a really special and fun experience! Let your kids order that fun drink or the banana split dessert! If you make it feel like a special occasion then you might have a different experience!
Take BreaksIf it’s the first time or two that you’re taking your small child out to dinner, go into the situation with realistic expectations. Your kiddo probably will not sit still the entire time (at least not initially). Instead of getting frustrated or upset, take frequent breaks. Walk them to the restroom, walk them outside, move them to the waiting area-do what you need to do to give them a change of scenery and the movement their little bodies crave. These breaks are a great time to talk about how important it is to be patient and quiet when waiting for a meal. You can point out other children and families who are sitting nicely as well. The more you practice, the longer your child will sit. You can even set a timer on your phone and ask that your child remains in their seat for a set amount of time. Once the timer goes off, move a bit. Push back the sitting time every time you are out to eat. Eventually, you won’t need to set a timer at all! But, you have to start somewhere!
Bring DisposablesDisposable bibs, baby wipes, disposable silverware, and disposable sticky placemats are awesome for dining out with little ones. They ensure that messes are kept at bay, and you simply toss them when done!
Always Bring a Back UpToddlers are known not just for their tantrums, but their picky eating habits. While they may love chicken fingers one day, they may loathe them the next. So, if you think you’re choosing something “safe” off of the menu for them, you just never know if they’ll eat it or not. It’s wise to always bring some kind of back up food in your baby bag-whether it’s a granola bar, fruit, or animal crackers; it’s better to bring something rather than nothing so you’re not stuck rushing out of the restaurant with a to-go bag for everybody.
Put Your Foot DownSmall children will sometimes push buttons. And as they get older they will learn what they can and cannot get away with quickly. If you’ve worked through all of the tips above, and your child refuses try to remain calm and quiet, or eat; then it might be time to put your foot down to establish your expectations and boundaries. We are huge advocates for Conscious Discipline (If you haven't heard of it- check it out here) The idea of Conscious Discipline is very progressive and positive in that it gives your child expectations but also choices in how to handle different scenarios. In an eating out situation, it might be necessary to tell your child that he has 2 choices: to sit and draw at the table quietly or walk outside to the car with you to have some space from the restaurant (hey- eating out can be overwhelming for kids!)
The fear of being “that family” when dining out absolutely should not stop you from trying- you’ll get there! It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t always control the situation, but you can go into the restaurant totally prepared and positive. These tips will help ensure your next dining experience out is a peaceful one!