As the world opens back up and people continue to get vaccinated, it appears that many of us parents can start eating out again. However, you and your toddler might be a little out of practice. Here are ten tips to help the meal go smoothly, hopefully.
1) Get a placemat that sticks to the table. This gives the toddler a “command area” where they can dump all the food they want. Toddlers aren’t very good at keeping things in a dish, so this is your next best option. This one is easy to carry in your diaper bag and easy to clean when you get home.
2) Get your restaurant toys. These are special little toys that only come out when you go out. Until then, keep them safely secured in the car. That way, they don’t’ get tired of the toy. They can be as simple as fidget toys like these, or something else they are really into. I know coloring books and crayons are provided at some places, but given enough time, they will get bored of them. A bored toddler is a toddler that likes to jump the booth to check out the neighbors, possibly without pants.
3) Go for a walk. Most toddlers are curious about what goes on in a dining establishment. Who wouldn’t be? So, before the food comes around take them for a little walk around the restaurant. Show them where the food comes out, visit the bathroom, wave at random people. To your kiddo, this is all new and kills time in a productive way.
4) Engage with your kiddo. Any attention is good attention in a toddler’s eyes. I’ve been asking my kids the same three questions every meal since they were three. What was the best part of your day? 2. What was the hardest part of your day? 3. What did you do today that was kind? Encouraging this type of engagement keeps their focus on you and not on throwing the broccoli at your booth neighbor’s head.
5) Bring snacks. Give your kids something that their little fingers can grab onto and throw into their mouths. This keeps them occupied long enough for the main dishes to come to the table. Find the toddler’s favorite snack and make a game of it.
6) Always keep a rag handy for spills. I feel awful when I’m out with my kids and something gets dumped over. It almost always happens, and I know the wait staff is already overworked. Having my kid take a shower in Diet Coke is not really helpful. When you have a rag handy, you can get to the messes quickly instead of asking your server. Keep a Ziplock bag in your diaper bag as well so you can put the rag in there before dealing with the next disaster.
7) Take the screamer outside. Everyone has a bad day, including your toddler. Your fellow patrons will thank you immensely though if you take the screamer outside for a second to give them the room they need to go epic. Yes, you will miss conversation with your significant other, but we can all admit you were just talking about your toddler anyway. Go outside and see what’s going on in the parking lot.
8) Change diapers quickly. If your toddler is still in diapers, this can be a tough one for many fathers because there is still a shortage of changing tables in the men’s room. But the quicker you can change the diaper, the happier you’ll all be. Yes, sometimes this means doing your best Cirque du Soleil impression while you balance the kid on your knees in the bathroom, but it’s worth it. Don’t wait for a moment, just get it done.
9) Don’t be afraid to grab the broom. This is right up there with keeping a rag handy. But you and I both know that your toddler is going to throw ½ of their meal on the floor because toddlers tend to eat like a hog in a trough. And that’s fine, they are still working on their fine motor skills. But at least ask for a broom and dustpan to make it easier on those walking by or on the waitstaff. No one to step on mushed fish sticks and French fries. I’ve done this so many times that it’s just habit at this point.
10) Tip bigger than usual. Money talks better than your toddler. If you can afford it, a nice tip will leave a positive impression on someone’s mind. Make the people that are making your life easier a little happier and throw a bigger tip down than you normally would. It’s the surcharge of going out. Yes, I know that staff is supposed to cater to your every whim, and you are oh so special, but recognize the situation and reward someone else doing the heavy lifting of mealtime for you.
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