Note: I originally submitted this to Babble but they said they had too many pieces touching on a similar topic. So on my blog it goes 🙂
The scenario: Fifteen straws under your chair, spilled milk soaking your lap, repeating “No thank you” til your voice gets hoarse, rice strewn all over the table… these are the things meals out with a toddler are usually made of.
But dining out with your toddler doesn’t have to be the aforementioned nightmare. We go out to eat about once a week with our 2-year old daughter and though it isn’t always a walk in the park, it can be fun, relatively cheap … and even better for your waistline than a date night would be. Confused? Don’t be. You have a couple things working in your favor that can make dining out with your toddler a great experience for the whole family.
Generally speaking …
1) They have a small appetite – Toddlers are pint-sized people bursting with energy and blessed with quick metabolisms … but aren’t necessarily the best eaters. And even if your kid isn’t picky, chances are he/she isn’t wolfing down every morsel on his/her plate. Today’s super-sized portions of everything mean even kids’ meals could make a couple of future meals for a toddler. Capitalize on this by divvying their meal into smaller portions to start … or try sharing your meal with them and getting an extra side of veggies – which saves money and calories.
Net gain: 1-2 bonus meals … or a savings of $5 if you skip the kids’ meal and share your meal with your toddler.
2) They have a short attention span – This means instead of a leisurely, several-course meal, you and your dining companion(s) probably won’t have time for an after-dinner drink or dessert before the meltdown of the century begins with the flick of a sippy cup across the table or sleepy eyes start getting rubbed … But this loss is actually your gain if you think of it in terms of calories (and money) saved.
Net gain: 500 dessert/drink calories “spared” and a savings of $7, give or take.
3) They demand attention – Dining out with your toddler, you could find yourself shoveling in your meal while your child picks at his … but the more plausible situation is you’ll find you’re eating muuuuch slower than normal because you’re spending the meal picking up crayons your toddler has thrown, cutting up steamed carrots (all the while asking what color said carrots are), counting out pieces of chicken while you sing numbers, teaching manners, or breaking up arguments amongst siblings. Either way, I’d bet your plate will probably still be full half-way through the meal … at which point you will likely need to leave for a diaper change and/or walk around the restaurant, anyway.
Net gain: Excellent (albeit forced) display of portion control — leftovers for lunch!
4) Their very presence can incite conversations with strangers – Since you couldn’t get a reservation and are stuck in the waiting area of your local kid-friendly joint for the next 25 minutes, you might as well get to know the family standing next to you, right? Maybe they are looking at the same preschool as you; maybe their daughter dances at the same studio as your daughter. Maybe they have a friend of a friend looking for babysitting opportunities and you’ve been on the prowl. The possibilities are endless … and you never know; you could meet your best friend!
Net gain: Potential new friends for you AND your kids.
5) It’s guaranteed bonding time – In our busy lives, meal-time often becomes just that … time to eat a meal before the usual routine of baths, books and bed begins. At a restaurant, gone are the distractions of the doorbell buzzing, telemarketers calling, whiny pleas to watch “One more Mickey!” and choruses of “All done” 2.2 seconds into the meal. It’s just you and your family … oh, and a bunch of other families also connecting while they break bread. The point is, it’s something special. And who knows, the change of scenery could even nudge your kids to bed sooner than usual … freeing up your night for your own passions, whatever they may be.
Net gain: Quality family time … made all the more awesome by the fact that THERE ARE NO DISHES INVOLVED!
See, dining out with a toddler isn’t something to fear. And what’s the worst case scenario? You get your meal to go. No harm, no foul.
How about you? Do you and your family go out to eat a lot, or do you avoid restaurants like the plague?