Eating out with young children can be a daunting experience. You never really know what to expect! Will your child behave or will they have a meltdown in the middle of your meal? Will they throw their food at the person sitting next to you or start singing their favorite toddler tune at the tops of their lungs? Here are some ideas to make eating out with your child a little easier.
Choose a Child Friendly Restaurant
If you haven't taken your child to restaurants frequently, starting with casual restaurants or even fast food-type establishments may be your best bet. This style restaurant doesn't require perfect behavior, and the food is ready in minutes which means there is less time for your child to grow bored and start acting out.
If you decide to skip the fast-food restaurants, pick a restaurant that has a children's menu. These menus tend to feature child favorites, like chicken fingers and french fries, grilled cheese sandwiches or cheeseburgers. Choosing a restaurant that offers food your child will enjoy eating is a much easier experience than hoping to convince your child to try a new food at the restaurant you choose.
Keep in mind that noisier restaurants may also be a good choice. That way if your child does talk too loud or make loud noises they are drowned out.
Pack a Goody Bag of Things to Do
Sitting and waiting is hard for little ones, especially when they don’t have anything to do. Packing a bag with books to read, coloring books and crayons and small toys for toddlers is a must. As your child gets older you can include small travel games, books with mazes, and even a deck of cards. Having your child help you pack the bag and letting them know these are the activities they can do while waiting is also a good idea.
Heading out before the lunch or dinner crowd is always a good bet. The later you arrive, the more tired and hungry the child will be. Not to mention that later in the evening there is often a wait before you can be seated. It is hard enough for children to wait for their meal, let alone have to wait before you can even be seated.
Check Out the Menu Before You Leave Home
Doing some research will save you time before ordering and help prepare your child for the restaurant visit. As soon as the server comes to your table, ask them if you can place your order immediately to reduce wait time.
Go Over Expectations Before Arriving at the Restaurant
Talking about your expectations for your child's behavior will have more impact as your child gets older, but it never hurts to talk about it even with young children. Let them know how you expect then to behave while in the restaurant. Touch on topics such as using an indoor voice, sitting in their seat and using good table manners.
Have Realistic Expectations
Don’t expect to have a meal without at least a little fidgeting. Sitting still for long periods of times is hard on little ones. If necessary, get up and take a walk to the lobby or restroom to calm restless legs.
Handling a Meltdown
Finally, if your child does have a meltdown, don’t be afraid to end your meal right there. Ask for a doggie bag and take your leftovers home. Give it some time and then try taking your child out to a restaurant again. The more times you go out, the easier it gets and the more well-behaved your child will be.