Thursday, June 13, 2013

taking a toddler out to eat

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The very title of this post might sound ominous to some of you, and I am going to tell you right from the start that nothing that I say here is revelationary or rocket science. Not a single hint of mine is brilliant or even creative.  But for the sake of remembering what this time in our life was like, spending our days with just the one little guy, I thought I might record our typical routine when we head out to eat.  I should tell you that we make a conscious effort to go out often, usually 3-4 times a month. Normally, I am not a huge advocate of eating out-it's healthier, and certainly cheaper, to eat at home.
There is something so nice, though, about a family tradition of a special meal out, and I'd like to think we are making our own.  I'd also like to think that we're doing our part to provide A with some opportunities to practice good behavior.

Lately, our restaurant adventures have usually taken place after church.  We go to an early service, which leads me to my first essential tip for a successful meal out with a toddler.

1) Eat early! 11 for lunch, 5 or 5:30 for dinner. I'm crowd-shy anyway, but it's approximately 8,000,000 times easier to have a pleasant meal without the stress of other busy patrons.  There are so many reasons this makes eating out easier-service is faster, my little guy can take a walk through the restaurant without bothering anyone, and if for some reason he's not feeling it on any particular day, there are fewer witnesses to the inevitable meltdown. This also is key for that dreadful transitional time to one nap, when, if you're anything like us, you are struggling to keep your baby awake for a little longer in the morning, but know that your time is extremely limited.  Side note: Truthfully, breakfast and lunch are much better times for a successful meal out in our experience.  The end of the day simply isn't A's best time.

2) Don't put your toddler in the high chair until the food has arrived. I learned this lesson the hard way, plopping A down in the chair right away only to discover that it held his interest for 2.5 minutes before he demanded "Out!" and then fought us putting him back when it was time to eat. I have never repeated this error since the first disaster.  Instead, I pull out my bag of tricks or take him on a friendly walk.  When the food comes, I do any necessary prep (cutting into smaller pieces, etc.) and only then put him in the chair.  Works like a charm (for a little while at least, usually enough to get a decent amount of my own plate eaten).

3) Have a bag of tricks! I don't carry anything out of the ordinary, usually just a pack of crayons, small blank notepad, and maybe 1 book or 1 small toy.  Nothing that crowds my bag or makes a mess. Yes, most restaurants have a coloring page and crayons, but it's good to be prepared, and even if they do, it is still an additional item for entertainment.

4) The aforementioned friendly walk is a great way for your toddler to burn a little energy, and you can make it especially productive by taking him to the bathroom for a proper hand washing (which in itself can be supremely entertaining).  Patrons won't mind seeing an adorable, HAPPY kid wandering around.

5) Last, but not least, our ordering routine. I am APPALLED by the sad state of kids' menus in virtually every restaurant I've ever been.  It's rare to see anything besides chicken fingers and Mac n' cheese. Decent vegetables are like an endangered species. Even fruit cups are plain and uninspired. There are a few local spots with better choices, but most continue to be awful.  What I usually do is share my order.  Goodness knows portion sizes these days are ridiculously out of control, so it's not like I'm losing anything. If what I'm craving doesn't have a side of veggies, I'll order a side salad, just to ensure we have something a little healthy.  I am not always virtuous, of course, and there have been plenty of French fries and bites of pizza shared between us and our little boy.  We try our best!

Like I said, these little tips aren't new, or even thoughtful.  I also know that it will be a whole new ball game, so to speak, once the is more than one child in the mix (we hope that time isn't far away!). By sticking to the routine, though, we have managed to have some great family meals together. And I love our new tradition.

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