How to Keep Your Toddler Busy and Entertained In a Restaurant
Sharing a meal at a restaurant with a toddler can be a challenge, but with some planning and patience you can have a good meal out. Toddlers in general find it difficult to sit still, are prone to tantrums and are not very interested in what anyone else is eating. Yet eating in a restaurant broadens their horizons, getting them used to the idea that food can come from someone other than a parent and somewhere other than at home. Here are some tips to help you have an enjoyable restaurant meal with a toddler.
Choose your restaurant wisely
Pick a place that is family-friendly. Look for restaurants that have a children’s menu and high-chairs, which shows they will be used to the disruption that toddlers cause as they drop forks, spill their drink and throw sugar sachets on the floor.
Toddler first and always
Consider the feeding and nap schedule you have for your toddler when making your reservation. If your toddler goes down for a nap at noon, do not book a lunch for 1pm or you will be guaranteed to have a cranky child that will be out of control. In this instance, aim for an early dinner.
Bag of tricks
Take items to the restaurant that you can fit on a high-chair tray. Soft toys like finger puppets, sheer scarves for peekaboo, and sorting toys will keep a little child occupied and also means that if they fall on the floor they won’t disturb other diners. You can also attach some toys with ribbon to the high-chair so you are not distracted from your conversations by picking things off the floor. A number of toys are a good idea so if they get bored with one you can exchange it for another.
Be careful with the use of smartphones or similar. These are highly addictive to toddlers and you will have to wean them off it. They also disengage the child from the environment they are in.
Keep it brief
For toddlers, and young children too, time at a restaurant can feel like watching paint dry. Children as old as 10 may secretly pray you won’t order coffee!
Toddlers do well if they stay in a high-chair for 20 minutes. Keep your child with you whilst you are waiting for your order to be taken and transfer them to the high-chair when food arrives. After that, it is best if one of you take the kid for a wander before they return to the high-chair. The short time in the high-chair is because it takes control for a toddler to sit still and their little bodies need to move. A quick walk outside should be enough for your child to sit back in the high-chair. If you cannot go outside, walk your toddler to the bathroom to wash your hands and then walk back to the table.
Look online for the restaurant’s menu so you can decide what you would like to eat before you get there. This allows you to order together as soon as possible. If your toddler is a very slow eater, you can order your child’s meal first, but for most people this backfires as the child finishes eating before your food arrives, becoming restless and bored.
It is also a good idea to ask the waiter if he can expedite your order. Whilst you wait for your food, offer your toddler a favourite snack you have with you from home, which should keep them occupied until their meal arrives.
Respect Other Diners
Even the best laid plans can go awry. If your toddler is having an ‘off’ day and is disrupting the peace of other diners, take them out of the restaurant to settle. If they remain fractious and loud, you will have to accept that your meal has been cut short. Whilst one of you leaves with the child, the other can pay the bill, have the meal wrapped as a take-out and on the way out apologise to those nearby – many of whom will understand. If you have left a mess behind, leave a generous tip.