3 Ways to Survive Dining Out with a Toddler

It’s Friday night.

You just got home from work. Or you’ve been knee deep in Play-Doh and bristle blocks all day long, and the last thing on earth you want to do is cook a meal. So you start daydreaming about your favorite restaurants.

There’s just one problem:

Your toddler.

Let’s face it. Toddlers are cute, with many other redeeming qualities, but their manners in public often mimic those of a caged badger.

So how on earth do you maintain your sanity, while still maybe enjoying a meal out? Here are three ways:

1. Be Realistic. Let’s face it. The days of heading to a white tablecloth restaurant with valet parking are long gone. At least as long as you’ve got a toddler in the mix. Date night? You spring for that valet, absolutely. But with a 2-year-old in tow? Think again.

Maybe it means picking that burger restaurant that you’ve eaten at a thousand times, where you happen to know they offer bottomless mac and cheese. Maybe it means forgoing the artisan pizza for a grilled cheese.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about encouraging your kids to adapt to your lives and not letting those little sticky badgers run your schedule, but at some point, you’re going to have to get realistic and eat yet another burger or plate of chicken tenders.

2. Feed them Before You Go (or bring snacks with you). We’re getting really good at this. If we’re heading out to dinner, often we’ll fill the toddler up on food before we leave so that she’s not starving while we wait for our meals. It’s a win-win for everybody.

You can also bring a bag of carrots or crackers with you for while you’re waiting for the food. Unless you’re at the world’s snootiest restaurant, no server is going to raise a fuss about you keeping your toddler calm for them. In fact, I’ve had several tell me that they really appreciate me having rations for my kid so that they’re not throwing a tantrum the whole time.

Again, it’s all about being realistic and adapting.

3. If All Else Fails, Order Takeout.

We’ve all had those days. There’s no way you’re making dinner, but there’s also no way your little badger/cherub is not going to get you thrown out of your local Applebee’s.

When the wheels on the bus are no longer going round and round, but have completely fallen off and the bus is careening towards the guardrail, pick up the phone or fire up the browser, and get your take out on.

Chances are your favorite restaurant — even that hip one that has four tables and an hour wait — offers takeout.

Takeout really is the best of both worlds. You don’t have to cook dinner, maybe you even get a kid-free drive to the restaurant to pick up your food, and you can put Junior in front of a movie without being judged by every parent around you. Honestly, sometimes an episode of Octonauts is all that stands between my toddler and the meltdown of the century. And that’s okay. 

So there you have it. Kids change everything, including your dining out experience. It won’t always be fun. It isn’t always glamorous, and most of the food usually ends up in their hair or on the floor. But with a little creativity and a lot of flexibility, you can still enjoy a night off from firing up the oven.