Let's face it; eating out with toddlers can be stressful. They have trouble sitting still, are prone to tantrums (especially when they’re hungry) and can have limited interest in new foods. Plus, restaurants can sometimes be loud and busy, and kids’ menus typically offer some of the least healthy options of all. Before you go, try these tips to help everyone have a more enjoyable night out.
Planning ahead can go a long way toward keeping your toddler happy in the restaurant:
- Review the menu ahead of time. That way you can order quickly and cut down on the waiting time.
- Pack a healthy snack. Bring some dry cereal or an unsweetened applesauce cup in case your order takes a while. But don’t overdo the snacks; you still want your toddler to be hungry when the food arrives so you have a chance to eat.
- Bring non-screen entertainment. It’s tempting to use your cell phone or tablet, but that can lead to a battle when it’s time to put it away. Using a device at the table also teaches her bad restaurant manners. Instead, keep her entertained with small, quiet toys, like crayons and paper, finger puppets or board books.
Give your toddler the structure she needs to behave well and eat right:
- Go early. Try to get to the restaurant before your child’s usual mealtime. Be sure to factor in the time it takes to order and get your food. Otherwise, you risk having an overly hungry, unhappy toddler on your hands.
- Offer two healthy choices. For example, “Do you want spaghetti or grilled chicken and broccoli?” instead of asking, “What do you want to eat?”
- Remove distractions. Once the meal arrives, remove toys and other distractions so your child can focus on eating.
If it’s on the table or on your plate, your toddler will probably want it. Since “no” can lead to a tantrum, your best bet is to order only healthy foods for everyone. And ask the waiter not to serve the never-ending supply of chips or bread.
Eating healthy at a restaurant can be a challenge, especially with kids. The choices on the kids’ menu can be some of the least healthy options on the menu, and the portions are way too big for most toddlers.
Restaurant portions are typically large enough to share. So even if your entire meal isn’t toddler friendly, don’t be afraid to share some of it, and supplement by ordering a side of:
- Steamed veggies
- Baked potato
- Broth-based soup (instead of creamy)
- Beans and rice
- Scrambled eggs
With a little forethought and some creative ordering, taking your toddler out to eat can be a treat!