Table for 4- Dining Out with Little Ones

Like many couples, my husband and I enjoy dining out every now and then. When Chase was born, I think our first outing as a family of 3 was around 6 weeks old. He was still in that larvae phase, when he would sleep through everything as long as he was fed. So we would tank him up with some milk, put him in his infant carrier and head out to the restaurant for a few hours. Once he started walking, things got a little harder, since he wanted to explore everywhere, but he was still manageable. Then around 18 months, mealtime became nearly impossible. Sure it was possible to go out to a restaurant with him, but it wasn’t that enjoyable. One parent would eat, while the other one walked around the restaurant with him and then we would switch. Don’t forget I was also 8 months preggers, so that added an extra fun challenge.  We might as well just be at home. Some argue that you can just distract kids with toys and iphone/ipad screen….welllll not quite. He would get bored of the toys easily,  and if we gave him a screen, meltdown would ensue when it was turned off and we just didn’t quite like the idea of having it on throughout the entire meal. (Personal preference! No shame for those who do use screens, we’ve done it plenty of times when all else fails). So we just decided we’d stop going out with him to restaurants until he was able to seated for longer at the table, and dined in at the home.

Fast forward to when Carter was born last October. Chase was still hard to keep still at our dinner table and most days would refuse to eat much of anything. My husband said one Friday night, “wanna go out to eat?” I looked at him and said, “We can barely handle dinner at home and you want to take this out in public?” *cue James Harden eye roll*.  A few months later at Chase’s first day of school, I watched in awe as his fellow classmates sat at the table in regular (tiny) chairs  patiently eating their lunch with utensils. I looked back at my son…who had shimmied down out of his chair and was eating the food off the ground that had fallen off his classmates’ plates. I was mortified. But somehow, in a few short months, school has tamed my wild beast of a child.

So last night we decided to take our circus back into the public dining arena and try eating out with just us 4 for the first time. Now this may come as common sense for most parents, but maybe to some these are a few new tricks to try. Here’s what we discovered worked best for dining out with a wild toddler and infant:

  1.  Family-friendly restaurants set you up for success. We went to our favorite, Founding Farmers, which usually has loads of families and is loud (perfect for drowning out a crying baby or tantrumming toddler). Fine dining will be saved for our childless nights out.
  2. Booths are best…for multiple reasons. For the toddler, it gives him room to stand and wiggle around instead of the confinement of a highchair, but contains him enough in our area. For the infant, his carrier fits perfectly in the booth and is easy to access him from the side. I always caution my new mamas about not putting the infant carrier in the upside-down highchair. I made that move with Chase when he was a few months old, since I had seen so many parents do the same. A waitress accidentally brushed by him and he fell onto the floor in the carrier, luckily unharmed but just startled.
  3. Order kids meals right away- If your kid is anything like ours, as soon as he sits down he wants food. Unless we’ve brought his dinner with us for him, we order his to come out with appetizers.  Patience is beyond his capacity at this age.
  4. Come prepared and find distractions– Now this is an obvious parenting move. However, Chase gets bored with the same toys he has at home. When you make games out of items found at the table, it can be like having new toys. For example, making a taxi tunnel out of the napkins, growing “straw worms” with drops of water, playing “I Spy” with the decorations in the restaurant etc. We lasted the entire meal without screen-time, (but best believe I had “Bob the Train” ready on standby if needed!). Towards the end of the meal we also took only 1 lap around the restaurant this time. That’s progress!
  5. Ignore your neighbors- Sure most people are understanding of kids in restaurants, however, sometimes you end up sitting next some that are not. Try not to entertain their glares or sighs if your kid starts acting up. Remember you deserve to eat with the rest of civilization sometimes…and you’re doing your best to make an enjoyable experience out of it.

Well that’s all I got. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment and share!