Do you take your toddler out to eat in public? Some parents seem to manage reasonably civilised meals while others spend the time trying to persuade a wayward child to sit down, stop shouting and please try just one mouthful! If you would like to enjoy the odd meal out, these tips may help.
1. Time the meal carefully
If your child normally eats at 12 then it would be wise to arrive at a restaurant at around that time, or even a little earlier. An over-hungry or tired child is unlikely to sit calmly and wait while your order is cooked, and if you keep them quiet with breadsticks or other snacks they may not eat when the food does arrive. It might also be worth considering places with a self serve salad bar or buffet since you wont have to wait.
2. Choose your table
Even if your are seated by a server you can always ask for a specific table, or a table in a particular area. A good choice might be near a window, where your toddler can watch passing traffic, or near the kitchen if you can watch the chef. At self serve places it's a good idea to sit near the buffet if you are on your own. That way you can fetch food much more easily.
3. Bring supplies
If your baby is still quite small it would be a good idea to bring a bib with you, and perhaps his usual cutlery and sippy cup as well. Older toddlers will enjoy using the adult versions of course. You might also want to bring some small, quiet toys to keep them occupied before or after eating. A toy car or two, some drawing paper or little toy animals can all be good options. Really you want things that engage your child's imagination so they can play independently for an unspecified length of time.
4. Be there with your child
It can be tempting to treat a meal out as an opportunity to chat with other adults and hope your toddler just sits quietly and lets you have some peace! While that is totally understandable, and you should be able to have some adult conversation, it rarely works well. Your child is a part of the group and she will respond much better if she feels included. Ask her what she would like to order (perhaps giving just two or three options) and include her in the conversation where you can. Then, while she is busy drawing a picture, you can grab a minute to chat to your friend.
5. Prepare at home
A child who has never learnt table manners at home wont suddenly behave differently when out and about. Expect your toddler to sit up at the table, use cutlery and eat a wide variety of foods everyday and those things wont come as a surprise. It's also a good idea to have a toddler sit at the table for a few minutes after they have finished eating, gradually lengthening that time. Again, if they are used to jumping down and running about the moment they have had the last bite then they will expect to do the same in a café. If your child is a fussy eater then these tips may help you avoid daily battles over a spoonful of peas.