Dining with a toddler is rarely fun. It’s especially a challenge when you’re on vacation and have to eat at unfamiliar places day after day. You may enjoy new experiences and adventurous dining, but toddlers thrive on routine, and many are picky eaters. With some planning, you can make your family’s dining experiences a little smoother while on the road.
The Louder, the Better
Choose your restaurant carefully. While you won’t want to take the kids to an intimate French restaurant, don’t limit yourself to fast food joints. Look for restaurants with plenty of background noise. Brewpubs, which seem to be ubiquitous in larger downtowns, usually offer a good variety of tasty food, and a little noise from your child will likely go unnoticed. The point of going on vacation is to have a fresh experience, but if you’re desperate, stick with a national chain that you know your child enjoys.
Location, Location, Location
As important as your restaurant choice, is where you sit in the restaurant. If it’s not too busy, look for a secluded table in the corner, away from other people, so you don’t have to stress every time your child squawks. Seats near a window or outside are good options, as the view can keep the kids distracted.
Plenty of Diversions
Bring plenty of toys, books, crayons—whatever it takes to keep your little one occupied. Mundane items that you’ll find at the restaurant may also entertain your toddler. You’d be surprised how long a straw or a pair of chopsticks can keep an 18-month old occupied. And don’t forget to bring plenty of snacks and a sippy cup.
Not all restaurants have highchairs, so keep your stroller handy. If your toddler is still at the stage where throwing his plate on the floor is high entertainment; then pack a placemat, so he isn’t stuck eating his meal off a nasty table. Reusable placemats that stick to the table with strong suctions cups are ideal or throw a roll of tape in your diaper bag, so you can tape a paper placemat to the table. The restaurant may not have plastic utensils, so it’s a good idea to stash a plastic spoon or fork in your bag just in case.
Don’t limit yourself to restaurants. If the weather’s nice, picnics are a great option to mix it up a bit. And don’t be afraid to deviate from the script. If the kids are particularly cranky one night— splurge a little and order room service.