Any time we go out to eat, friends, family, waiters, and even complete strangers will turn to us and say, “He’s so good!” gesturing to our 16-month-old. Sometimes I think a well-behaved toddler in a restaurant must be a rare thing, given the amount of times we hear this compliment!
There’s really only one main thing we do to ensure that Judah will not only behave well, but enjoy himself. Here’s our secret.
In fact, we embrace every opportunity to do so! By taking Judah out to eat with us, we normalize the experience of dining out for him.
My husband and I have been foodies for a long time. We enjoy a nice dinner out together. Now that we have Judah, we’re not letting our toddler cramp our style; we’ve just learned how to make small changes here and there. Sometimes that means we skip the Michelin-starred haute cuisine and instead opt for somewhere that has a kid’s menu. But we’re not going to shy away from the experience of going out to eat with Judah just because sometimes having a toddler in tow takes a little more proactive parenting.
Dining out with our toddler means being prepared and ready to adapt as necessary. To make dining out with our toddler easier, we’ve set up some clear ground rules that we try to follow every time we dine out as a family:
Always make sure we don’t stray too far past Judah’s regular mealtime.
This one’s a biggie. Judah can go from pleasant to “hangry” within the span of about 20 minutes past his regular mealtimes. If we’re going out to dinner, we take an “early bird special” approach, often going out to eat well before the normal dinner rush.
Always have a clean sippy cup and a backup baby food pouch.
Sometimes Judah is all about trying new foods and sometimes, he just doesn’t want to. We get it – it’s a normal part of toddler development to go through picking eating phases. Just to be safe, anytime we’re headed out to eat with Judah in tow, we always make sure he has a sippy cup and a pouch of his favorite baby foods so that he won’t be hungry. If our meal is spontaneous, we always try to stop at a local grocery store or pharmacy to pick up a pouch in case we don’t have one packed on hand in the diaper bag.
Be ready to get our food to go.
We used to do this more when Judah was much, much younger, but if Judah was getting particularly worked up, one of us would take him outside while the other would settle the bill and get our food boxed to go. Now that Judah is eating solid foods and an active participant during mealtimes out together, there’s less of a need for this, but every now and then, it’s clear he’s had enough and it’s time to go.
Actively engage with our toddler during the entire meal.
Sometimes we have to feed him, other times we let Judah feed himself. And while we’re waiting for the food to get here? We keep him occupied, either with a quiet toy or book, or by engaging in just basic play, like peekaboo with the napkin, pattycake, or other little games. Every moment with Judah is an opportunity to teach him something new, too, so I like to use mealtimes for vocabulary building, either having him practice words he already knows or teach him new ones.
Sometimes Judah is a total rockstar. Other times, he might whine, or bang his spoon on the table, or shout a little too loud. We try to keep it all together as much as possible and if we can’t, we spare the other diners by making a hasty exit if we have to. But since we have no fears about taking Judah out to eat with us, it’s a rarity when we have to do that.
Our hope is that as Judah grows older, he’ll learn what is and isn’t acceptable behavior when we’re dining out in public. I’m more than keenly aware that tantrums and time outs are just around the corner for us – we’ve been getting previews for weeks now – but it won’t stop us from exposing Judah to new places, foods, and experiences.
How do your little ones do when you go out to eat? What are your secrets for a well-behaved little one? Share your tips and stories in the comments!