Eating out with infants (18 months-3 years)
Top tips for restaurant dining with littlies
Keep your first outing to a restaurant or café short! Aim to have a drink for yourself and your child and possibly some food that has already been prepared. Keep your first café experience to about 20 minutes. Any longer than this and you will be testing the patience of both yourself and your child. For first timers, aim for just you and your child. The presence of another adult will increase the time you are at the café and tests your child's patience beyond what is reasonable at this age.
Aim to be eating lunch around 11.30am and dinner at around 5pm. Yes it is early, but that is the clock our little ones work to. Go much later than these times and they will only pick at their food. In order to eat at these times, allow at least 20 minutes for food preparation before hand. Make bookings accordingly. For dinner meals, ask if children's meals can be brought out with the drinks. This way you can help little people to eat without your own dinner going cold. Hold off children's drinks until their meals arrive. A nice big glass of milk can take so much edge off their hunger that they might not be interested when their meal does arrive. If you're invited to a breakfast, remember to give your little one something to eat at their usual breakfast time. An 'adult breakfast' invitation is closer to morning tea timing for little ones.
Keeping them amused while waiting for meals
Do your homework where possible. See if you can take your child for a short walk outside after you have placed your order. A travel pack of colouring-in books, or a notepad and a pen work well for busy little people. A small bottle of bubbles can keep a toddler amused for ages (you do the bubble blowing and have them catch or count them though to reduce the risk of spillage!). A small car or finger puppets can also help pass the time until food arrives.
A brand new experience
Children are like little foreigners. We are teaching them everything they need to know. When you go to a restaurant or café, look at it through a child's eyes. "There is food that I can see but can't touch" (because of the glass!); there are plants and maybe some fish to look at and try to touch. There are different chairs and tables, and "what are those little packets on the tables?" (salt, pepper, sugar etc.). "You said we were coming for some food, where is it? Is it ready yet? What about now?" Pack plenty of patience and remember to look at this place and experience through their new little eyes and it will reduce a lot of stress.
When to leave
Meals with children are short. For children, once the food has been eaten, the experience is finished, full stop. They do not chat as we do, and have no interest in a coffee after the meal. If they have managed to keep their busy little bodies under control for about 45 minutes at a restaurant or café, you’ve hit the jack pot! Don't push your luck. As they get older, they will be able to sit still for longer periods.