I remember this with Sam, and we’re totally there with Nora right now: that window of time (maybe from 15 months – 2 years) when eating out with your toddler is nearly impossible. She climbs out of her high chair; screams and squeals loud enough to disrupt everyone nearby; and, well, let’s not even talk about the mess she makes… Truly, there are only a handful of restaurants in town I’m willing to show my face in right now.
Can I get an amen?!?
All that said, I still really like eating out. So, through much trial and error (and embarrassing clean-ups), I’ve come up with a few things that seem to make it a little more do-able these days:
1. Choose loud restaurants and eat outside whenever possible.
The toddler stage probably isn’t the best time to try out a fancy white-tablecloth hot spot, but there are plenty of places appropriate for little kids. When choosing a restaurant, I look for places where there will be other kids/families, where the noise-level is already high enough to absorb some of ours, and where the toddler can get down and move if she must. Outdoor dining season is my absolute favorite for eating out with kids since the mess, noise, and overall commotion seem a little less obvious on a patio or deck.
2. Bring activities to keep them busy while you wait.
Don’t expect your toddler to sit quietly while you wait for food (or, let’s be real, even to quietly watch a movie on your iPhone). I always come prepared with books, little toys, and other things to keep them entertained. Sticker books and those magnet drawing boards work great for this since they keep little hands busy and distracted but are less “edible” than crayons. 😉 Keep a bag in your car especially for restaurants and re-stock it frequently so that the contents always seem new and exciting. Trust me, it’ll be worth the extra effort.
3. Ask for your child’s meal to be brought out first (or bring plenty of “appetizers” from home).
The restaurant wants your kid to stay cool too, so they are almost always willing to turn a blind eye to the “no outside food or drink” policy when you bring applesauce pouches, puffs, and goldfish for your kiddos to snack on while they wait for their meal. Even more, if you ask, they will often deliver the child’s food as soon as it is ready (before the rest of the party’s dishes) so that he/she can start eating right away – just be prepared to share your food and/or scarf it down fast since letting the toddler eat early means you’ll have less time to enjoy your meal in peace.
4. Make your own disposable place mat with Glad™ Standard Aluminum Foil.
One of my struggles with eating out is how to actually give the food to my toddler since she’s definitely been known to throw a whole plate on the floor if the mood strikes. The reusable place mats never really worked for us either, and the disposable stick-on ones on the market feel too expensive for what they are. Recently, rather than just putting Nora’s food right on the table (which did feel a little unsanitary), I’ve started making my own disposable place mat out of Glad™ Standard Aluminum Foil. Once we are seated, I simply pull off a sheet of foil and lay it flat on the table in front of the high chair. I wrap one end around the ledge to hold it in place and fold up the other three sides to give a little “barrier,” then just put her food right there. When she’s done, clean up involves simply crumbling the foil into a ball and throwing it away. (As a bonus: a small ball of foil makes an excellent activity to entertain at the table in a bind a la #2.)
5. Keep your expectations low (and remember “this too shall pass”).
This is kind-of cheating, but it’s really true. Though it can seem like forever when you are in the throes, this really is just a season. Realize that your toddler WILL outgrow this stage, and it will – eventually – be easy and enjoyable to eat out again. Walking into the restaurant knowing that our meal will likely be a little chaotic and harried really does help me make the best of it and enjoy what I can. Plus, by continuing to eat out even when it is hard, I am teaching my toddler the “rules of the table” and setting us up for success later. One day, she will be a four year old that eats with a fork off a plate and colors contentedly while we wait for our food, and I will miss all this… Ok, maybe I won’t miss it, but you get my point. 😉
Glad™ Standard Aluminum Foil is a multi-tasking momma’s partner for not only easy prep, cooking and clean-up in the kitchen but also for making life easier on-the-go! At 12” wide, it is the perfect size and not too big to keep in your diaper bag. Plus, the new Stay Closed Lid helps keep it from coming open in transit, the “Pull up” cutting feature makes it super easy to get a clean cut every time (a major problem for me with other brands), and the Ready Edge makes each sheet ready to go when you need it. Finally, at 30% stronger than other leading foils you can count on it not to tear or fall apart even when cutting food (or letting a toddler wreak havoc) on it.
Visit Gladfoil.com for more information, a list of retailers close to you, and a special $1 off coupon wherever Glad Foil is currently sold.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your best tips for eating out with little ones! Tell me in the comments below for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card.
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