It’s Friday night and you are trying to decide what to do. The options are endless, but you’ve narrowed it down to just dinner, or dinner and a movie. Oh, I remember the days of having the freedom to be indecisive. Let me just tell you, it is a luxury, not a right. I know you are struggling with this decision, so I’ll make it really easy for you. Come dine at the table next to ours and your show will be on us. We’ll likely even buy you a round or two to show you our appreciation for being patient and holding your tongue and dirty looks when our toddlers decide to play their favorite game: “Let’s throw everything on the floor.”
Dining with toddlers is a nearly impossible feat. I’ve tried many times and failed miserably. I’ve also learned some essential tips that have taught me how to be a survivor, not a victim, of a bad restaurant experience.
So, here is what I have learned:
First things first, read your crowd in advance.
If your kids are already in meltdown mode, don’t assume things are going to get better; most likely, they will get much worse. I’ve made the mistake of pushing on with dinner plans even when I knew deep down in my mommy gut that it was going to end badly for me.
The truth is that takeout on the couch, with a beer, while your kids play or color on the floor, is much better than dragging them out of a restaurant with your now cold food packed into to-go containers. It’s not fun. You will leave feeling defeated and vow never to do it again.
Be prepared with a game plan.
You need to make sure you are ready for a dinner out with children. Gone are the days of the spontaneous sushi dates, as well as sushi dates in general, because if your kids are like mine, they won’t touch it if it isn’t bread or macaroni of some kind.
I have a bag that I keep stocked for meals out. Here are the things that I always have on hand, and you should too:
Paper and crayons, books, toys that don’t make a lot of noise or have a ton of pieces. I’d suggest picking up a couple of the Melissa and Doug — On the Go coloring books. They are amazing and 100 percent mess free!
Also included? Diapers, wipes, and a changing mat. Even if you just changed your child’s diaper five minutes before leaving, there is always a chance of the spontaneous blowout. Be prepared. You don’t want to leave the restaurant holding your child at arm’s length with a poop stain on your pants. People will stare and you’ll want to hide, but with a child covered in poop there is nowhere to run other than straight to the car.
Do not forget snacks. Yes, I know you are going out to eat, but if your kids are as impatient as mine, you will need snacks. These can also double as a distraction. If you want to keep a bag in the car, I’d suggest non-perishable items like applesauce pouches, crackers, and veggie straws. Also, if you bribe your kids like I do, a few packs of gummies never hurt anyone.
Remember to be patient with yourself and your children.
The only thing worse than children behaving badly are parents behaving even worse. No one wants to hear someone yelling at their kids while they are sipping on an adult beverage, so take a deep breath and try to use a calm voice as you tell your child that emptying the sugar packets onto the floor is not cool. It’s not easy, but it is possible. That being said, if you lose it for a second, it is OK; it happens. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Something that always makes me feel better is to remind myself that this is just my family, existing in public with other people. If those people want to get their panties in a bunch over spilled milk, smushed goldfish crackers, and a few toddler tantrums, then they can go somewhere else or go home.
That being said, I do recommend choosing a somewhat kid-friendly place. I’m not saying you have to go to Chucky Cheese, but white linens and expensive glassware should be red flags.
Don’t ignore them.