One Highchair Please: Dining out with Toddlers

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I know it’s the holidays and a lot of the focus is on eating in…but I find that this is also a season where we do a lot of eating out!  If family is in town, we’re out shopping, or if I feel like I’m just “done” being domestic for the day, we pack up our four little kids and head out to a restaurant.

Yes, that’s right.  We take all four of our little children (age 5 and under!) to restaurants that employee waiters and don’t have playgrounds. We go fairly regularly, I might add. Granted it’s not a time of quality conversation for my husband and me, but we can still manage to have a good time and (well most of the time) we both get to eat.

Today I want to share our secrets.  It wasn’t always easy. I remember about 5 short years ago trying to eat out with a baby and thinking (and probably telling my husband) that we shouldn’t eat out again until he was 11.  As we added more children I thought it would become impossible.  But, I was wrong.  Our children are used to eating out, they know what is expected of them and, perhaps most important of all, we don’t stress out about the experience.  I’ve found if we are relaxed, they can be relaxed too.

There are certain tricks, and tools, we’ve picked up along the way that we know are essential to us having a nice family-dining experience.   So, in the spirit of thanksgiving, I thought I’d share.

First the tools!  Here’s what I always have with me when we go to a restaurant.

My toddler showing off his sippy cup strap!

Tool 1:  My sippy cup bungee strap.  I tried to make one of these once (to no avail) and was thrilled when I found a vendor at Canton who actually made cute ones and sold them!  (Scribbles and Dribbles of Arlington – find them at scribblesanddribbles.com).  You attach to the cup and the highchair (we use it on car seats, too). And, presto, you never have to play the “retrieve the cup off the dirty floor” game at a restaurant again!! It also creates a fun activity to keep your child busy in the chair (throwing and picking up the cup).

Tool 2:  Sticky placemats.  You might be the supermom who has successfully taught her 18 month old not to throw the plate – but I’m not.   I’ve also noticed that even when we use a plate at a restaurant, food STILL ends up getting put on the table. So, we use these awesome, disposable, sticky placemats called “Table Toppers”- You can find them at tabletoppers.com and buy them at places like Target.

Tool 3:  If you are a germaphobe like me, take a long a high chair cover.  I had a standard one. But, I know they make really cool ones (Neatnik Saucer) that are much easier to tote. I used mine religiously for baby #1.  I remembered it about 60% of the time with baby #2.  I used wet ones to pre-clean the chair with #3.

And, some tips…

 Tip 1:  Arrive at the restaurant at least 10 minutes before the time that your child(ren) normally eats.  Remember – it’s going to take them some time to get the food out – so you don’t want to arrive with a starving little guy or gal.  We leave the house to eat out as soon as afternoon naptime is over.  That way everyone is well rested and (hopefully) in a good mood.

Tip 2:  Bring snacks in case they are slow. Yes, I know, you are going to a restaurant to eat. But, in case it takes them a while to get your food out …plan to stave off the “I’m hungry” fussy fits.  I suggest cheerios or freeze dried fruit.  We also LOVE the GoGo Squeeze applesauce.  You don’t have to use a spoon and, thus, they are virtually mess free.  You don’t want anything too calorie laden or your baby will have a snack instead of dinner.

Tip 3:  Have a “restaurant toy”.  I keep an assortment of little toys in my bag that are at the ready for entertaining during a restaurant wait.  I find little squeeze toys or animals or even matchbox cars to work out well.  Whatever it is, make sure you save it just for occasions like eating out so it’s new and exciting.

Tip 4:  Be realistic.  Kids are kids so they aren’t going to sit still and quiet for the entire duration of a meal.  If you find your child getting restless, get up, take them outside, or on a little walk to a more open space to give them a break.

See...you CAN eat out with four children!

Do you take your kids out to eat? What tricks do you use?

Want to WIN a FREE SIPPY CUP STRAP?  Visit our facebook page and respond to the contest post with your preference of a boy or girl colored strap! There will be 6 lucky winners this week (Contest ends Wednesday!)

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Originally an East Coast native, Heather Creekmore is a pastor’s wife living in Austin, Texas. Heather spent over a decade working in politics and marketing for non-profits before marriage and children. Now, through her own ministry, Heather speaks and writes to encourage Christian women who struggle with body image and comparison. Her first book titled, “Compared to Who?” (Leafwood, 2017) helps people find new freedom from comparison struggles. In her free time, Heather home schools four children, drives the soccer practice shuttle, makes (sometimes edible) freezer meals, competes on Netflix baking shows, and breaks grammar rules. Connect with Heather on Facebook or on her blog at: Compared to Who.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. My best advice for a very active toddler is to bring your own booster seat that has straps and ask for a regular chair. I can’t stand restaurant high chairs! They are always dirty, sticky and all around gross. On top of that, most of them either have the straps cut off or have broken clips. That doesn’t work with my little guy who is in constant motion! This is our favorite chair we keep in the trunk of the car at all times: http://www.fisher-price.com/en_us/products/Table-Time-Cow-Booster Bonus: So inexpensive!! This worked for our child pretty early and I highly recommend it for restaurants.

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