Meet the Sullivans: One Year & Beyond - Dining Out with a Toddler

August 21, 2014

One Year & Beyond - Dining Out with a Toddler

Wow, I can't believe this is the second-to-last topic in our One Year & Beyond series! Today we're sharing our secrets for dining out with our toddlers.

Taking O out to eat used to be the biggest anxiety inducing outing for me. I would worry about what we would do if he had a meltdown in the middle of the restaurant? Or if he threw something across the room? Or what if we couldn't keep him contained to our table? I don't worry too much about all of those things anymore, we can handle whatever happens these days. Although, every once in a while we need a little extra help, so I try to make sure we're prepared with a few things that might help us make it through the meal.

No Expectations.
Keith and I have a rule for parenting, no expectations. I'm not saying we don't hold O to a certain standard of behavior, or that we don't expect a lot from him in terms of achievement, but when we're out and about we try to not have any expectations for how things will play out. Even with all of the preparation in the world and all of the fun entertainment you can provide you might still have a completely disastrous experience. No expectations, and no one leaves feeling too disappointed or jyped. Having said that, I think it is still very important that you set yourself up for success!

Be Fair to Your Child.
We don't expect O to sit in his car seat for a long drive up to San Francisco, go straight into a restaurant and sit nicely through an entire meal, only to get right back in the car and head home. That would not equal a happy experience for any of us. We try to work in some kind of play time before expecting him to sit still for any amount of time, so the restaurants we choose are usually near a park, toy store or shopping center we can roam for a bit.

The Right Location.
There are a handful of restaurants we like to bring O to. Here are the requirements:
  • noisy - to drown out the noise we will definitely be bringing to the table, literally. 
  • has a changing table - duh, but some places that you'd think would obviously have one do not. it's disappointing and really inconvenient.
  • is generally child friendly - will the other patrons give us the side-eye for bringing our kid in?
  • is there an escape route? - benihanna would be a huge NO, we need a place where we can take our meal to go at the drop of a hat.
  • entertainment - something for O to look at (a nice view of cars / the ocean / a tv) while we sit there. 
  • coloring place mat -did you know The Cheesecake Factory does not provide them? Shocked.
The Right Time.
Cranky pants and restaurants don't mix. Even if we plan on going out somewhere we'll usually nix those plans if O is exceptionally cranky or defiant that day. Like I said, set yourself up for success. BUT there are times, like when you're on vacation that you just have to eat out. When this happens we try to pick the best option, and maybe that's ordering takeout and eating somewhere O can play.

Bring Entertainment.
Crayons, coloring place mat, cars. busy bag, action figures. Anything to keep them busy and happy while you wait for your food. I don't pack all of the items pictured, but I usually make sure to throw one of them in my bag before heading out. Playdough, Melissa & Doug Crayons + paper, Water Wow by Melissa & Doug let's your child "paint" with a water pen, dinos + cars, or a Play Pack.

Bring Snacks.
I don't pack all of this food with us each time we go -- that would be INSANE, because the whole point of dining out is to not have to prep food yourself, right? This is just a look at some of the faves. We love our Zoli Snack Stacker, because the cups are interchangeable and you decide how many to bring. I always have O's Camelbak with us, but at a restaurant I usually order him a sparkling water, because it's his favorite and it will encourage him to stick around -- and it makes him feel like a big boy to have his own beverage from the restaurant.

Bring a Bribe.
Lollipops, a Hershey's Kiss, the promise of dessert at the end, etc. can all save you a few moments of peace before things get crazy.

When All Else Fails Pull Out the iPhone.
We both have Netflix and Amazon Instant Watch apps on our phones so we can turn on a quick show in a pinch. We also really love the Sago apps for Owen to play: Sago Mini Music Box · Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer · Sago Mini Forest Flyer.

Keep in Clean!
Restaurants aren't always the cleanest place, and if there aren't children's place mats given out I pull out my own for O to use. And of course, no mom leaves the house without some Wet Ones! I keep a large container in the back seat cup holders and a travel pack in the diaper bag / my purse.

Thank so much for stopping by and hearing what I have to share! Check out the other mama's blogs for even more tips! And be sure to link up with us below if you also have a post on this.

July 10: Keeping your marriage alive with a toddler
July 17: Favorite summer toddler activities
July 24: Helping Your Toddler to Communicate (Words, emotions, etc.)
July 31: Dealing with Separation Anxiety
Aug 7: Car Trip Necessities
Aug 14: Deciding when the time is right for baby #2 (and/or how to handle these questions)
Aug 21: Tricks for eating out with your toddler

Aug 28: Feeling confident as a mom (How to feel this way, Your struggle with, etc.)


Jenny said...

I really like your tips about being fair. Letting them have some play time before the meal - just really didn't think about that! But reading it I was like omg duh! I agree abou distractions and kid friendly places too. we also try to go at non peak times so waits are minimal.

hello erin said...

love these tips! its seriously SO true. no expectations is the best! that way when things go smoothly you're excited and surprised!!

Christina @ Still Lucky said...

Love! Great tips Colleen. I really have to be better about bringing something besides crayons to play with. I love your "no expectations" approach. That's pretty much how I view every outing too!

a boy a girl and a pug said...

mine just turned one so this series is so what i need right now...thank you for the awesome tips.

Hannah said...

Love these! Going at the right time is so helpful and lets everyone actually enjoy their meal!

Sarah said...

great tips, and I love the little collage of pictures at the top :)

E Hayes said...

We used a M&D water wow (the same truck one) tonight out to eat on vacation. I bought them on purpose for dining out, but we've been doing a lot of cooking in so I gave her one the other before day to keep the ipad off and she plays with it constantly. Really is a perfect 2 yr / toddler toy!

Courtney B said...

Love, love, love! These are the BEST tips and I totally agree!