Go Ahead Mama – Take Your Toddler Out to Eat

Do you like to eat out but worry your toddler’s unpredictable behavior will ruin the experience? With a toddler, there is no guarantee that meltdowns won’t ever happen but a little preparation can go a long way in reducing the risk. Don’t fret if you are short on babysitters; venture out and show your little one that eating out can be fun. Here are some suggestions from my experience with my now 4 year old. He has grown to love it so much that he gets excited by the mere mention of going out to eat. He likes to rattle off all the names of the restaurants he sees as we drive down the highway. Sometimes I have to convince him to eat at home. Shazbat. Perhaps my plan worked a little bit too well! Good thing my budget won’t allow us to overindulge. Anyway, here’s what I learned.

First, time it right. Make sure your child is well rested if at all possible. A tired kid will try your patience anywhere, but especially in a restaurant. If the restaurant of choice is popular, try to go early to avoid crowds.

Second, look for family-friendly restaurants that offer kid menus. Diners of these restaurants expect to find kids there and the atmosphere is usually more appealing to children. A few we have patronized are Red Robin, Outback, El Torito, Denny’s and diners. We occasionally visit a theme restaurant like the Rain Forest Café but expect to pay more at these places. Sometimes the noise and chaos at such venues can be a bit scary for the younger set. If you have a sensitive child, you may want to hold off on these until he/she is older. Check menus on the internet before you go or call ahead if you are not sure what’s available at the place you prefer. Even some of the fancier establishments will make adjustments for children upon request. Oh and don’t forget to scope out the internet and newspapers for coupons, if applicable.

Third, do not count on restaurants to have the little things that make a meal more enjoyable to a toddler. Bendy straws, for example, will make it much easier for your child to drink from the cups they usually serve. Most places have only the long straight kind which makes it really hard for a little one to maneuver the cup and increases the chance of a terrible spill and/or a nice big poke in the face. Definitely a mood spoiler, so I always put a bag of bendies in my purse and cut them to different lengths so I’ll have the perfect size for whatever cup they give my son. Putting the drink in an empty sippy cup is another solution to prevent liquids from falling all over the table (and your child) if your kid is willing to use it. Or bring your own drink. Kid-sized forks and spoons also come in very handy as most restaurants do not provide these and they make eating so much less stressful for a kid. Disposable placemats that stick to the table are useful as well. And, of course, extra wipes. If your child still uses a high chair, try to dress him/her in clothes that will not slide on wooden high chairs or bring something they can sit on that will not slide. We have spent many a meal propping my son up repeatedly on those chairs.

Fourth and perhaps most important, anticipate boredom. Pack a small bag of surprises to keep your little one engaged. Crayons and notebook/coloring book should be standard. Other ideas: sticker books, small cans of play-doh, books, cheerios and string to put them on, small cars or characters for play acting, mad libs, pictures. Older kids will like activity books with mazes, dot to dot, etc. I like to collect little games and toys we get from parties and use them for this treat bag. You can also stock up at any dollar or craft store.

Finally, have a plan in case the food takes too long or your picky eater simply doesn’t like his/her choices. Many times the waiters are happy to bring out your child’s meal early if you ask. She/he can eat dessert when your meal comes. This really works with my child because he is always happy when eating dessert. Carry a bag of snacks and/or a food your child likes in case you can’t get the meal early or if you don’t wish to order from the menu. The right snacks can work wonders.

Don’t forget to include your child in the conversation whenever possible. If this is the first time you’ve eaten out together, talk to him/her about how to behave in a restaurant and what to expect. This will help him/her be more at ease in this setting. If your kid happens to be one of the messy ones, make up for it with a big tip. You’ll want to leave a good impression on the wait staff in case you want to come back!

Bon appétit!

The Librarian


Mommy Guilt

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Let’s talk about Mommy Guilt. You know, that little voice inside your head, or often coming from other people, that tells you that no matter what you do, it’s not quite enough. We all live under the specter of Mommy Guilt. Because let’s face it–sometimes we moms just can’t win.

Take the working moms vs. stay at home moms (SAHM). Working moms–what terrible people! If they loved their children, they’d eat ramen noodles every day and stay home to nurture their children in the way only a mother can! And moms who actually choose to work–you know, so they don’t lose their sanity–well, that’s even worse. What’s wrong with you??? And those SAHM’s–how beatific, the self-sacrifice in order to surround your child with your love and care 24/7. What do you mean when you say you’re bored and would love some adult conversation that didn’t involve discussing sleeping problems or food, both on the way in and on the way out? If you loved your children, you’d leap with joy for every precious second. Why on earth would you say something like, “I’d kill for a little time for myself”? Don’t you know that there are working mothers out there who would love to be in your position? What’s wrong with you???

Like I said–working or not, we just can’t win. It’s that Mommy Guilt at work, and the key word in Mommy Guilt is should. Working moms, you should stay home with your children. SAHM’s, you should be grateful and not complain. Working moms, you should do all of your parenting yourself, not at daycare. SAHM’s, you should put your children in preschool or a group setting, lest you raise some kind of weird, unsocialized freak who can’t make friends or get along with anyone else.

And of course it’s not just working vs. not working. This Mommy Guilt is pervasive. Just sit and think for a moment about your kids. Count how many times “should” or “shouldn’t” pops up. Right now I’m on the couch with my laptop while Mouse is in the Pack ‘n Play gazing rather dumbly at the sturdy carrying bag that came with some expensive blocks (which he just threw out of the PNP in favor of the bag). See that dull, rather unintelligent look in his eyes? Shouldn’t you be reading to him or practicing rolling a ball back and forth, which the book says he should be able to do but can’t, probably because he spends a great deal of time in the PNP playing with the sturdy carrying bag that accompanied the expensive blocks? I’m getting ready to feed him some lunch (although I should have started that already). When I throw stuff on his tray, it really should be fruits and veggies I grew myself, organically, in our back yard. I also should engage him with eye contact to work on his language development skills instead of taking the opportunity to fold some laundry or do the dishes (which really should be done already). Oh, and did I mention that Mouse doesn’t eat with a spoon very well? Why? Because he makes such a mess of it that nearly nothing goes into his mouth and it all ends up either in his hair or his sleeves or the floor or inside the dog. Of course, if I take the time like I should be doing and teach him this valuable skill, he’ll be far less likely to go to college eating like a caveman.

Wow, seven shoulds that I probably won’t do all lined up for the next ten minutes of his life. A+ Mommy!

Now honestly, I can’t bring myself to feel terrible about each and every one of those things. He’ll get it eventually. Much of the time, we moms are very good at managing that Mommy Guilt, recognizing it for what it is: total crap. But there are other times when the Mommy Guilt stays with us. When it really does make us feel like we’re not quite enough. This can be devastating. It can be positively paralyzing for moms. Did you know that you can have post-partum depression for a full year after your child’s birth? Nothing feeds depression like a big old dose of Mommy Guilt.

Where does all this Mommy Guilt come from? Well, the easy answer that every well-educated person gives is “society.” It’s simply a part of American culture, that no mom is ever quite enough. But it also comes from our own heads. Again, think about all of your shoulds and shouldn’ts. If we recognize that Mommy Guilt is crap and we are good enough, smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like us, why do we still carry all of this around inside? And what can we do to get rid of it?

Let’s talk about Mommy Guilt. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

And yes, Mommy–you are enough.

The Scrivener