Before Madi was born, my husband and I loved going out for dinner, but having a baby changed everything about going out to eat. When Madi was a newborn, it was pretty easy to keep her quiet at restaurants. We would leave her in her car seat until she got fussy, and then take her out to cuddle her or breastfeed her if she was hungry. It was pretty simple and she settled easily. As she got older (around 10 months) and began to crawl, stand, and then walk, things got challenging. She would get restless easily, and would want to stand and grab things on the table and make loud noises. But at this age she could be easily distracted with books, a stuffy, or by just looking at her surroundings.
When Madi turned 13 months things got crazy. She was walking now and wanted to try to escape from her high chair and throw condiments and cutlery from the table. My husband and I would still go out for dinner, but it wasn’t the same relaxing dinners that we were used to. One of us would have to be up walking around with Madi while the other one was sitting down and eating. I now fully understand why parents would say they dread going out for dinners with their toddlers. Despite the craziness at restaurants, my husband and I still wanted to try new restaurants on weekends and occasionally during the week.
Today, we went for a wonderful 2.5 hour dinner at Lure in Atlanta, Georgia, and we think we have a few techniques that help Madi be more settled at dinner.
Through my experience eating out with a toddler, this is what I learned:
- We went for dinner early; our reservations were for 5:30pm.
- We asked for a corner table – the corner table lets Madi walk around a little between Graeme and me if she gets restless and needs to stand.
- We do not make her sit until the food arrives. She sits in Graeme’s or my lap or stands between us.
- We ask for the colouring book with crayons – this distracts her for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
- We bring a few small toys that can fit in my purse. We brought her toy car that she can roll on the table and we let her use objects on the table to play, such as the napkin and spoon (and anything else as long as it’s not sharp or loud).
- We point out objects while we’re eating and talk more than we normally do, identifying colours and making silly faces so she is entertained while we are eating.
- We try to really limit screen time (especially since the Canadian Pediatric Society does not recommend screen time under the age of 2) but she occasionally needs YouTube, especially if meals are longer than a hour and a half.
But in the end, every kid is different and it’s whatever works for you and your baby.