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Mastering dining out with a toddler: essential tips for stress-free meals

From tantrums to messy spills, dining out at a restaurant with a toddler can be stressful. However, with the right preparation and mindset, it can actually be an enjoyable experience for the whole family. Whether you're planning a special occasion or just want a night off from cooking, here are some tips to help you navigate the restaurant scene with ease.


Choose toddler-friendly restaurants

Selecting the right restaurant is key to a successful dining experience with your toddler. Opt for places that are known for their family-friendly atmosphere and menu offerings. Look for establishments with spacious seating, high chairs, and a relaxed ambiance where noise won't be an issue. Many restaurants also provide kids' menus with familiar and appealing options for little ones. Fun and interactive restaurants are also a plus. Consider trying restaurants where kids can see their food cooked in front of them, such as hibachi, or visit a pizzeria with visible brick ovens to watch the process. 


Set expectations

Before heading out to the restaurant, have a discussion with your toddler about the behavior you expect from them. Keep it simple and positive by explaining that you'll be going out to eat together, and you expect them to use their indoor voice and stay seated during the meal. Offering small rewards like a sticker or complimenting them on good behavior can also motivate your little one to behave appropriately.


Time it right

Timing is everything when dining out with a toddler. Try to schedule your meal during off-peak hours to avoid crowds and long wait times. Consider your toddler's usual mealtime routine and plan accordingly. Hungry or overtired toddlers are more likely to become irritable, so aim to dine when your child is well-rested and in good spirits. If a 5 p.m. dinner is too early, try opting for a family breakfast or brunch that aligns with their nap schedule. 


Pack the essentials

Come prepared with a bag of essentials to keep your toddler happy and entertained throughout the meal. Most restaurants won’t mind if you bring something small for your toddler to snack on while you wait for your food, so pack a few of their favorites. Some parents may choose to bring screens such as iPads, but if you’re looking for non-screen activities, pack items like toys, books, crayons, and coloring books to help distract your little one if they become restless. Don't forget to bring any necessary utensils, bibs, or wipes to handle potential messes with ease.

Packing the essentials is crucial, but sometimes, the best entertainment for your toddler might not come from toys or screens. Think about skipping the toys and instead engage your toddler in conversation throughout the meal. Encourage them to talk about their day, ask questions about the menu, or chat about topics that interest them. Not only does this foster bonding between you and your child, but it also provides valuable opportunities for them to develop their language and communication skills. 


Be strategic with ordering

Look up the menu of a new place before you go. When it comes to ordering food for your toddler, simplicity is key. Choose dishes that are tried-and-true favorites, easy to eat, and unlikely to cause a mess. Offer them a couple of choices and ask them what they want. It allows them to have some autonomy. Finger foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken tenders, or fruit slices are usually safe bets. It can also be beneficial to share meals at the table so that your little ones get variety and help prevent them from becoming picky eaters. If your toddler has dietary restrictions, don't hesitate to ask the server for modifications or recommendations.


Be Patient and flexible

Above all, maintain a patient and flexible attitude throughout the dining experience. Toddlers can be unpredictable, and there may be moments of fussiness or meltdowns despite your best efforts. Take deep breaths, stay calm, and remember that it's okay to ask for help if you need it. Most restaurant staff are understanding and happy to assist families with young children.

Dining out with a toddler doesn't have to be overwhelming. By following these tips and embracing the experience, you can create cherished memories and enjoy quality time together as a family. Whether you’re exploring cafes or your favorite restaurants, our mission at Doona is to simplify parenting. Just as the Doona Car Seat & Stroller seamlessly adapts to your needs and the Liki Trike encourages independence, our shared commitment is to empower you and make life on the go easy. Bon appétit!

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