Dinner out with your toddler doesn’t have to include tears — for either of you. Freezer meals are fab (and super-simple), but sometimes you’d rather leave the kitchen behind and head off to your favorite eatery. Your toddler’s in tow, and there’s a 50/50 chance that your meal will end in chicken nuggets tossed on the floor, ear-shattering screams and the dreaded, “Nooooooooo mommmmmmmy!” Well, pack up some toddler busy bags, take a deep breath and check out these five tips for taking your toddler out to eat — minus the much-expected meltdown.
1. Plan ahead. Time is of the essence. No one wants to rush through a meal, but your toddler has a limit. Spending half the meal wading through the menu wastes your time (and your toddler’s happy time). Go online and see what the restaurant has to offer or call ahead to get a copy of the menu. Make your picks at home and give them to your server as soon as you sit down.
2. Bring on the busy. No one actually enjoys sitting in a restaurant doing nothing, especially your toddler. Before your little one starts using the place setting as a plaything, pop open a busy bag. What’s a busy bag? If you’re not in the know (and plenty of us moms aren’t), busy bags are literally what they sound like — bags to keep the kiddos busy. You can buy these ready-made, find DIY versions galore across Pinterest or go simple and stash some sensory items (think craft felt, ridged paper, mini plastic blocks) in a clear zipper baggie or soft pencil case.
3. No negotiations. Diplomacy has its place. But maybe not at your toddler’s dinner table. What’s that? You say your two-year-old’s favorite word is, “No”? Okay, that’s totally normal — if not completely expected. You ask your tot if she’s all in for putting down your iPad and scooping up the mac and cheese in front of her. She responds with a resounding, “Noooooooooooooo!” Ask yourself if it’s the absolute worst thing in the world if she keeps on playing (quietly, mind you) and doesn’t touch her lunch. Probably not. Nix the negotiation notions, don’t debate the issue and box up her meal to take home.
4. Tag team with family or a friend. A meal out with a toddler is not an independent affair. If your spouse is sitting this one out, invite grandma or a friend for backup. When your toddler starts to squirm, take your little one for a tour of the space while your teammate holds down the fort — or rather, the table.
5. Pay while you’re still eating. Dinner is done. You made it through apps, an entrée and dessert without a single fuss. Time to celebrate your not-going-to-tantrum-today win. But, wait. There’s a mix up with your bill, the credit card machine just went offline, your server’s M.I.A. and you’re suddenly sitting across from a toddler time bomb. Ask to settle your tab mid-meal to avoid this possibility completely.
What’s your secret toddler-taming tactic? Tweet us your real-mom tip for dining out with little ones @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)