Table for Three: Tips for Dining Out with Toddlers

More Tips for Dining Out with Toddlers

Bring Supplies

When my own son was a toddler and we were getting ready for a restaurant meal, my husband always joked, "Do you have your bag of tricks?" But it was no laughing matter -- it worked! Finger puppets, sheer scarves for peekaboo, and sorting toys that fit on a high-chair tray are all great for keeping little kids occupied. As for electronic devices like your smartphone, "I know this won't win me any friends, but I'm not a fan of giving them to a child in a restaurant," says Dr. Berman. "It means she's missing out on the experience of interacting with people, which is part of what dining out is about."

Don't Get Too Comfortable

"Twenty minutes in a high chair is about all you can reasonably expect from a toddler," Post warns. (More active kids may not even last that long.) After that, you or your partner will probably have to take your kid for a walk before he can sit quietly again. "It takes impulse control to sit still," says Dr. Berman. "Little bodies need to move. Fortunately, taking a quick jaunt outside is like pressing the 'refresh' button."

Pick Your Plate ASAP

If you want time to actually eat your meal before a tantrum sets in, place your order as quickly as possible. You might think it's helpful to order your kid's meal first, but that tactic can backfire in the likely scenario that she finishes eating before your food even arrives -- and then she'll need something to occupy her while you eat. A better plan: Order together (don't be shy about asking the waiter to put a rush on it) and offer your kid some favorite snacks you've brought from home, which should keep her satisfied until her meal comes. Another word to the wise: You can usually check a restaurant's menu online ahead of time, which will save precious minutes at the table.

Respect Other Diners

Even if you're at an inexpensive family restaurant, other customers have the right to enjoy a meal in relative peace. If your child is getting restless or agitated, cart him out of the restaurant to settle down. If he still becomes loud and rowdy at the table, apologize to nearby folks as you walk out (you'll be surprised how many will give an empathetic "been there" nod). And don't forget to tip generously if you've left a mess behind.

Be Prepared To Leave

Even the most well-planned meal can turn into a complete dining disaster when an unpredictable toddler is involved. If things get really ugly, you may have only one choice: Take your food to go, put your child to sleep in his crib, and then enjoy your meal at home -- preferably by candlelight.

Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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