During the first year of our daughter Zoe’s life we made many attempts to enjoy a meal out with her. We found that lunches tended to be a bigger success than dinners because she would get so tired at night and since she wasn’t really eating too many solids at this time she would generally be cranky. We would then spend the entire meal passing her back and forth and taking turns eating while the other one of us walked around the restaurant with her trying to entertain her until we had settled the bill and could finally leave. Hardly an enjoyable experience!
As she got older and started to eat more herself we found that Zoe started to really enjoy eating out and now actually gets excited when we tell her we’re going to a restaurant. Now, at 20 months Zoe is a regular restaurant patron and as long as we go when she’s hungry and bring some stickers or crayons she’s happy to sit through the entire meal. Since we live in New York City and hardly ever eat out mid-week because my husband gets home too late we love that we can now enjoy weekend dinners out without paying a sitter. Also we really enjoy Zoe’s company in restaurants and we feel that eating out is an important thing for her to get used to. Here are some tips that we have learned for taking a toddler to a restaurant:
1) We no longer bring any food for Zoe. We have found that she prefers to eat something different than what she’d usually have –so the bread in the restaurant is more appealing to her than her snack trap filled with bunny crackers or o’s.
2) We try not to make walking around the restaurant even an option –we find this only encourages her to want to get up and walk whenever we go out. Of course if she’s really fussy or the meal is taking a long time we will take a walk with her but for the most part we try to encourage her to sit and it usually works.
3) We’ve found that if we are very enthusiastic about the fact that we’ll be eating in a restaurant she is excited for it and more likely to sit and eat quietly.
4) I try to stash away special toys and other distracters that she doesn’t usually get to play with so that they are exciting to her when we pull them out in a restaurant. Stickers, sticker books, different types of “neat” art projects such as those pens that draw with water, new books with flaps or textures or pop-ups have all been good distracters for us.
5) Finally, eat out often! I think this is the most important thing for getting your toddler used to eating in a restaurant.