Dining out with a small child, particularly a toddler, can be an extremely daunting task. When babies are little they mostly sleep and eat which makes dining out much easier. You can plan your dinners around their schedule so that they will (hopefully) sleep right through your date night. Sometimes they are so quiet you forget they are in the baby carrier right next to you. Easy peasy.
Fast forward to when your child is sitting in a high-chair or in the booth next to you eating solids and becoming more adult-like at the table. This is when you start to experience what dining out with a toddler is truly like.
Think of it like the weather. You never really know what you’re going to get and even if you think the forecast says one thing, it can change in an instant.
When I was pregnant and my husband and I were discussing our future parenting rules, we agreed that we were not going to be those parents that shoved a phone or tablet in front of our child’s face to get them to behave when we went out to eat. We hated seeing families out to dinner who were all sitting there on their electronic devices not talking to each other. We value discussion and interaction. Isn’t that part of why you want to have dinner together anyway?
My insider tips on having a successful time dining out with a toddler, in addition to ordering right away, is bringing a few reinforcements.
And no, I am not talking about grandma and grandpa, even though sometimes they work just as well!
Insider Tip #1: Don’t underestimate the power of a Toddler’s Backpack.
I purchased our son a small Mickey Mouse backpack off Amazon that is about ten inches in size. Perfect for his small toddler frame when he wants to carry it himself.
I took him to the Target dollar section to pick out a bunch of different items to fill it with. Not only was it cheap but my toddler also loved being able to pick out what he wanted. He chose stickers, coloring pages, felt activity books, crayons, flash cards and whatever else we could find that would fit in the bag and wouldn’t be messy (i.e., no play-doh). I also took a few matchbox cars, small trucks, and board books from his at-home collection to add to his bag.
This bag has been such a hit that we have rarely had issues with eating out since we started using it.
Insider Tip #2: Never let the backpack leave the car!
The backpack is NEVER meant to be brought inside and the contents NEVER played with inside the home. We firmly follow this rule. This allows us to rest easy knowing that the backpack is in the car and we don’t risk leaving it at home when we head out to eat.
Insider Tip #3: Keep ’em busy.
While we dining out, sometimes my son likes to choose what he plays with and other times my husband or I will get him different things out every couple minutes as he gets bored with the previous item. Sometimes we will get all the toys and books out, other times he will only play with his felt book the entire dinner which keeps him busy while we enjoy our meal.
The good thing is, it doesn’t matter!
Everything is confined to our table, our son is quiet and content, we are not bothering other diners and we can get through our meal without a meltdown!
Insider Tip #4: Replenish the goods!
Every now and then when I notice we are getting low on our current selection of goodies my son and I will go back to the Target dollar section and pick out new fun things to add into the bag. I am happy that our son loves his book bag and wants to carry it every time we head out to dinner.