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.