This pie-chart has been floating around lately:
It’s funny, and to a certain extent it’s true. When I was a newlywed, PH and I went to dinner with an old friend of his and her 18 month old. The child threw crayons, ran amok through the restaurant, and basically destroyed the meal while his mother went “Oh, you little monkey!”. This pie chart totally applied, and I thought “I’ll NEVER let my child behave like that”. Then I questioned myself.
Thankfully, I am now a mother of a 22 month old and I never let him throw crayons at people.
Eating out with Owl isn’t too difficult for us, and it’s a good thing, because we don’t have a bar fridge in our crappy Excalibur hotel room (in fact, for the first five days, we didn’t even have a door that locked. It took us two days to notice this, and then three days of wheedling to get someone to fix it).
Ordering into the room didn’t work.
So we do have to go OUT. To restaurants. With humans in them.
It hasn’t been nearly as much of a hassle as the pie chart makes it sound.
We even took Owl to a fancy steakhouse and were hardly humiliated at all. Part of that is probably Owl’s sunny disposition and the fact that he is a good eater.
I notice, though, that there are a few key things that other parents are doing differently from us, and I think that they may be making some mistakes.
You see, we have Strategy.
And so, I bring you…
How To Eat Out With A Toddler And Survive It
(Or, “The way that works for us”)
1. Bring toys and books.
Do not expect your dazzling conversation to entertain the child. I see a lot of parents trying to wrestle a toddler into sitting still with no distractions. It makes me wonder where their brains are. I know that Owl is a little perpetual motion machine and if we want him to remain in place, we need to at least give his little gyrating brain something to hover around.
2. Let the kid run around first.
Do not bring a child who is filled with energy to the table. Toddlers need to move. You keep a child in a stroller for most of the day and try to plunk them down at the table and let me know how that goes. Owl needs to MOVE, so we try to make sure he gets some running and climbing time in before we try and sit him down.
3. Don’t bloody order a kid’s meal unless you really have to.
The average toddler eats just a couple of spoonfuls of food at each meal, and kid meals are aimed at the 6 and 7 year olds of the world. What a waste of money. Besides, if your kid is like our kid, he’ll just want to eat whatever you’re eating anyway. Owl thinks it’s suspicious if we feed him something we aren’t interested in eating ourselves. If you know for a fact that your baby won’t touch a bite of your meal, then fine, go ahead, but you have been warned.
4. Take your baby for a walk once dinner has been ordered.
Once you’ve picked your meal, take the kid by the hand and go for a stroll around (or even outside of) the restaurant. Do not let him climb under other people’s tables, remove other people’s cutlery from the table, or chuck crayons at people.
5. Feed or don’t feed your baby as necessary while you are waiting.
If your child hasn’t eaten for hours and is on the verge of a hunger meltdown, ask for some bread or fruit to be brought out ASAP. Waiters are usually willing to jump whatever hurdles are necessary to prevent a full toddler tantrum at one of their tables. If, on the other hand, your child is not about to perish from hunger, then don’t give him snacks until dinner arrives. If food arrives and he’s full, you’re in trouble.
5. Once food arrives, immobilize the child.
Owl is old enough for a booster seat but we still request a high chair, though we don’t put him in it until his food arrives. If he wasn’t penned in, he’d be scaling me like a try and trying to yank my nipples out of my shirt. Once in the high chair with food in front of him (the food being the key part here) he has something to distract him.
6. The Copycat Trick:
If Owl is playing with his food more than he is eating it, I try this trick – Break off part of your meal (a small mouthsized bite) and put it on his plate. Then pick up your own ocrresponding portion and show it to him: “Mommy has steak. Does Owl have steak?”. A quick scan of his plate will reveal to him that yes, indeed, he DOES have steak. Wait until he picks it up and then grin at him. Show him yours and open your mouth and wait expectantly. When he does the same, gobble your bite of food and watch him imitate you.
7. Don’t force him to eat.
It’s okay to not be hungry. Provide more toys and books if you child has no interest in the meal, or take turns holding his hand and walking him around the restaurant while the other person eats. Just keep him busy and enjoy your meal.
We never get dirty looks – only coos and comments on the size of his eyes. I’d say we probably spend up to 30% of our time eating! :-p
Like I say, Owl is naturally fairly cheerful and he loves to eat, so I think we’ve been given a head start.
But still – seriously? 10% of your time begging a toddler to eat something violently orange which doesn’t remotely resemble your delicious salmon en croute? Not the way I would do it at all.
Like many parenting moments, it’s all about managing expectations and giving your kids the tools / resources to succeed. We’ve been taking our kids to restaurants since H. was an infant. After seven years and three kiddos, we’ve learned a lot. I’m going to ditch the false modesty and say that we have never once gotten the stink-eye, and in fact are often complimented on how well-behaved the boys are (we’ve even had other diners send desserts to the table for the kids!)
All of your tips are good ones. I would add a couple of my own:
1. Know your kids’ tastes, and choose your restaurant accordingly. For example, if your kid hates spicy food, avoid places where even the ‘mild’ versions are likely to be too much for them.
2. Practice lots in kid-friendly places before you tackle higher-end (read: slower) restaurants. If your kid can’t sit still and be polite for 20 minutes at McDonald’s – and we’ve all seen that – then there is no bloody way they will suddenly develop manners at a place with white tablecloths.
3. Tip generously, especially if it’s a restaurant you like and want to go to again. Servers see families with young kids and cringe – even the best-behaved children make extra mess and require more trips back and forth to the kitchen. Get the server on your side and life is golden.
4. ALWAYS bring a sippy cup. It amazes me how most restaurants – even the supposedly kid-friendly ones – do not have a spill-resistant system for kids’ drinks. Least favourite is a regular-sized glass – filled brim-full – with a straw that is twice the height of the glass and thus sticks up above the kids’ head. Most places will even just take the clean sippy cup to the kitchen and fill it up for you, thus eliminating the need to pour out the drink yourself.
We are to the point now where it is truly a pleasure to take our kids out to eat. If we had limitless monies, we would do it more often, for sure.
Yes, I heartily agree with all those points, especially the sippy cup. Problem is that Owl gets upset about not getting a straw cup like we do. So we just purchased one of those covered cups with a straw as his special restaurant cup.
Jessica (@jessicaesquire) said:
I think a lot of your tips are good ones. But it was much easier for me to take my 1-year-old to eat than it was when he suddenly and without warning turned into a picky eater and a 2-year-old. I did everything right that I thought of and he used to eat anything, but it happened anyway. He wouldn’t eat what I ordered most of the time. Those were the hardest times to go out. And now that he’s 3… sitting still is a bigger problem than before. I have a feeling we’ll be limited to restaurants with a play area for a while. *sigh*
I usually deal with picky eating by checking the menu in advance before I go anywhere. And I’m not afraid to order “off menu.” This is not a guarantee but always worth a try. I would often ask for fruits and vegetables he’ll eat served cut up and raw. These should be in their kitchen anyway.
I also depend on the kindness of wait staff, so I go to very family friendly places or relatively nice places (where their job is to be super nice).
Also recommended: have at least 2 adults in your party. 1 of you and 1 toddler means you’ll wear yourself out entertaining the kiddo.
Glad you and PH are having a pleasant vacay with the Owl. 🙂
Yes, being able to tag team with the baby is a hugely vital part of our system.
Great list/suggestions. 😉 Hope you are still enjoying your vacation.
We do similar things with our son – I agree with the commenter who said to always bring a sippy cup – we also try to bring some sort of snack in case food doesn’t come quickly – small pretzels and crackers are things we usually have on hand – but sometimes we decide to go out to dinner when we don’t have our “go-bag” with us – and it usually works out just fine. (as long as they provide crayons and paper – we need *something* to do if we don’t have our bag full of diversions.)
The other night we went to a restaurant that was new to our son – he pointed at the tablecloth and said “towel?” I hadn’t realized that he hadn’t seen a tablecloth before… oops.
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