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Dining Out with Toddlers

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One of my favorite activities with my family is enjoying a meal out. Sitting together on a restaurant patio, having conversation and enjoying good food...dreamy. The reality is, many parents struggle with taking their children out to eat. They worry they will make a scene, that their child will misbehave, or they will end up putting a screen in front of their child to distract them. Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my upcoming book about food and family. (Stay tuned for a release date).

Here are a few of my best tips to help you prepare for a meal out with your young children:

  1. Practice: Having sit-down dinners at home is a preparation for eating at a restaurant. Each time you sit down as a family for a meal at home, you are practicing for your next meal out as a family.

  2. Bring a set of dishes: It may be helpful to bring your child-size plate, glass, and flatware that your child uses at home. Restaurants do not often have these items available, making it difficult for your child to fully participate in the meal.

  3. Invite your child to be a part of the process: Take the opportunity to introduce pictures on the menu or new words. Discuss options with your child and then give him two to choose from. Even pre-verbal children can suggest preferences with facial expressions and hand gestures.

  4. Choose your seating wisely: Make sure to be seated in a way that your child can see people or look outside., Check that he won’t get overwhelmed and that he is not facing a screen.

  5. Ask for your meals to be served together: Many restaurants assume that children should be served first. The difficulty with this is, when a child finishes eating just as the parents’ meals arrive, the child is ready to move onto the next activity and the parent hasn’t eaten. This often results in one parent taking the child outside while the other eats alone. This is no fun. A purpose of a family meal out is to eat together, therefore, everyone should be served at the same time.

In order to maximize the possibility of an enjoyable family meal out, keep in mind the time of day—is your child usually getting ready for sleep at this time? Consider his activity of the day—has it been a full day of activity (this might just be too much to ask)? What about his level of hunger? Is your child hungry enough for food to keep his attention, or is he over-hungry and asking him to wait is not going to work? All of these will factor into his ability to sit and enjoy a meal while out.

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