I have always loved dining out, but all of my restaurant trips came to a grinding halt when my son turned two, and thus entered the “terrible twos” in full force. After a few months of depriving my family from trips to our favorite eateries, my husband and I got our heads together and came up with some fool proof ideas and tricks that would keep our most feisty little boy happy while we were out to eat.
First of all, the best places to go for any meal are restaurants that are family friendly. Leave the quiet, candle-lit ambience for a date night when you can have a babysitter stay with your child. Fine table linens and toddlers just don’t mix no matter who you are! Great places to dine out with your kids will have a noisier, more casual atmosphere where your child’s loud protests will be happily tolerated and where they will be able to get up out of their high chairs to walk around without upsetting anyone else’s dining experience.
My husband and I have researched and found several restaurants, pubs and coffee shops in our city that have designated play areas complete with everything from rocking horses, to building blocks, and train tables to doll houses. The fare is very good at these places and children’s menus are expansive enough to satisfy the pickiest eaters. Long gone are the days you could only take junior out to Chuck E. Cheese’s (which is also not a bad alternative, but a break from the loud video games & flashing lights is always good!). All we did was place a few simple calls to places we were interested in eating at and asked whether or not there was a children’s area available. You’ll be surprised at how many places do!
Now, if you can’t find an eatery with a play area, all is not lost. You would be amazed at how cheaply and easily you can keep your toddler entertained while eating dinner. First of all, you want to make sure that the child is able to walk around outside or in the waiting area while you wait for your meal to be served. It is hard enough as an adult to wait half an hour for your food….to a two or three year old this can seem like an eternity.
Once the food has arrived at the table, your child will do one of two things….eat or balk at his food. If he refuses to eat, or once he is finished with what is on his plate, pull out the crayons and coloring book. Small pots of Play-Doh also work wonders in keeping little fingers busy and can be purchased for a dollar at any discount retailer. Personally I would pack both, seeing as my son has the attention span of a gnat as most toddler boys do. If you have a daughter, bringing a baby doll to “feed” at the table has worked wonders for several of my girlfriends and their little girls. M&M candies also seem to keep toddlers occupied as they sort through the colors, rearrange them on their placemats and inevitably eat them. Stickers and small pads of construction paper also are fool proof ways to keep your toddler busy as are interactive books with flaps or lights & sounds such as are made & sold by LeapFrog. A trip to your local dollar store will also yield a nice variety of small and cheap toys to keep yout toddler busy, like little farm animals, slinkies, chalk & mini boards, etc.
It may seem daunting to have to carry around what seems like a toy trunk on your next trip to a restaurant, but in reality, the aforementioned items are all pocket-sized with the exception of the babydoll. Since you will already be carrying a diaper bag of some sort, the coloring books, crayons, Play-Doh and stickers will all be easy to tuck in with the diapers, etc. that you will be carrying. And it is a small price to pay to have a nice, tantrum-less dinner out with your family!