7 Tips for Eating Out With a Toddler

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(Photo: iStock)

We’ve all witnessed that table at a restaurant — kids standing on chairs, refusing to use their indoor voices and exchanging bread rolls at each other’s faces. We definitely understand that it can be hard to create an effective dining experience but eating out with your children doesn’t need to be a stressful battle. Or require another glass of rosé.

While some parents choose to avoid the baby tantrums all together and eat at home in a bunker sort of setting, it’s not encouraging a healthy sociability for your child. With efficient planning, patience and practice, your family can have a wonderful dinner as you welcome your child to a more public setting.

Start at home
Before you head to that fancy restaurant, train your toddler at home. After all, manners start at your own table when you and your partner set an example. Like potty training, create realistic expectations for their task and be patient. While every toddler is different, it’s important to realize it might take more than two dinners to get them really comfortable. Whether they’re seated at the table or in a high-chair, when they see a routine, they’ll understand what’s expected of them.

Reward them for their manners
While rewards are a bit controversial, psychologist and co-author of the book, Rewards for Kids, Virginia Shiller, M.D. says they can be helpful instruments for parents teaching children new goals. Without treating it as a behavioral modification, the key in not making it a dependent habit is in how incentives are distributed. From stickers to inviting their stuffed animals to the table, find what piques their interest and utilize it as a means of motivation to understand the type of behavior expected. This will expand their perception as you help them reach their goals.

Choose the right restaurant
If you feel your toddler is ready for the real world, take them out! But before you do, do your homework and research restaurants. While you and your partner might want to try the new trendy grill, be realistic and think of your toddler’s eating habits. Choose a restaurant that’s more casual and of course, kid-friendly. Fast food joints and franchise chains are often your best bet for an easy-going atmosphere that won’t mind small spills, messes and tantrums.

Get a corner table
When you’ve managed to find the restaurant, get that corner table — and one that can accommodate a high-chair if need be. Booths might seem like a good idea at first but if kids are cornered, they might bang and thump during their meal and that could potentially disrupt others. The corner table away from all the action can often be the best spot in the restaurant as it’s more quiet and gives patrons more breathing room.

Respect your child’s attention span
Waiting for food can be the worst. But while we can quietly wait, our kids can’t and their hunger has a lower threshold for patience. Keep your child’s attention span in mind and find a restaurant or fast food joint with a quick turnover. If you want to try out that hometown gem but know it takes a while to prepare meals, try it another time. Additionally, TVs can distract kids from eating or even conversing, so find a spot away from that specific attraction if you want a better dining experience.

Get appetizers
Prepare kids for the real meal by ordering a kid-friendly appetizer. Not only does this give you a glimpse into their habits for the night, but it will get them ready as they understand what is expected of them. If they act up during this stage of dining out, remain calm and unaffected but take them outside to talk it out, letting them know of the consequences.

Make it a family date night
While you should treat it as a family date night, ensure you’re paying attention to your toddler because if they realize you aren’t, they will find unimaginable ways to get it back. Learning to eat out with them and all the etiquette that entails sitting, talking and using their napkin doesn’t need to be as scary as you’d imagine. All it takes is practice to perfect it, so give yourself more confidence in the chances you have to make it a better experience.