My 18 month old still cannot sit through an entire meal in a even a quick restaurant. By the time we get our food, we scarf it down as fast as we can so we can leave before she gets REALLY fussy. Is this normal? What do you do to keep your kids occupied and content?
We generally avoid asking her to sit down until the meal is served. We usually only eat out with extended family so one of us will sit and chat while the other one takes DD1 for a walk. She'll then usually sit long enough for us to eat one course. If we want dessert we'll walk down the street and get an ice cream.
EYS - I just read your thread title. I don't consider this relaxing. We eat out when our family ask us too but not because it is a big treat for me.
Mother of two spectacular girls, born mid-2010 and late 2012
Generally we avoid eating out at sit down places We socialize with people with kids, at homes of friends/family, or kid friendly places.
Me: Sarah, married to: J, mommy to: C (8/10) and E (11/12)
Yup, not really what I would call relaxing. DD has a lot of restaurant experience as we go out to eat with her regularly (3-4 times a month, more if we have out of town visitors). We also travel a few times a year and then pretty much all meals are eating out. She is 2 now but we've been doing this since she was born so we have some practice. Still, it is not really reasonable to expect her to sit the whole time and be happy about it. It happens on rare occasions but I don't count on it.
If it's breakfast, it tends to be faster so she will usually sit the whole time but we end up rushing at the end anyway cause she's had enough. For other meals though we typically sit down, order, and then take her on a tour of the restaurant (or if nice weather and depending on location outside too). Now she can walk around, but before we would carry her around, point out different things on the walls, count lights hanging from the ceiling, look at dogs going by on the street, etc. till our food arrived. Then eat, give her little bits depending on what appeals to her from our plates (we don't order her a separate meal yet usually), and when she's done and getting impatient we have a couple of things on hand to amuse her. A little colouring book and a couple of crayons; an old wallet and some hotel keycards/old loyalty cards/business cards that she can pull out, examine, and put back in; a small non-noisy toy. Frequently when one of us is done eating first that person takes her on another walk around the restaurant while the other finishes their meal. Typically DH amuses her and feeds her while I eat, trying to sneak in bites where he can, and once I'm done we do a little exploring while he eats.
Also, we try not to take her out really hungry cause she's not very patient then (neither am I!), even if it's somewhere we know she will like the food. So she typically gets a snack before we leave and I have something for her to munch on in my purse in case she won't eat anything there but is really hungry and upset. Typically it's a little container with a spoonful of raisins and another one with 5-10 crackers. These only get brought out in case of "emergency", I don't want her to think that everywhere we go she can just eat her crackers and not try anything new. I carry these in my purse all the time anyway, in case we get held up somewhere shopping or on an errand.
I find I have better luck at places like Panera where you wait in line to order, then go sit down and get your food pretty quick so there isn't that 10+ minutes of sitting at the table doing nothing that really seems to get kids revved up! But even then, we still have to eat quickly.
Katie - Married to Mike 06/02/01, Mom to Sydney Anne born 11/21/09 and Alice Maeryn & Oliver Thomas born 04/24/13
I was looking through Elizabeth Pantley's "No cry discipline solution" and it has a section about eating out with kids. One of the things she talks about that really made sense to me is to compare eating out to eating at home. So if at home you don't sit at the table till everything is ready to eat and then let your kids get up when they're finished, that is what they will expect at the restaurant. If you want them to get used to sitting at the table and waiting a few minutes for food, you have to practice that at home. Sounds like a lot of effort on a daily basis but it makes a lot of sense.
Toddler + dinner + restaurant + relaxing have never ever existed in the same sentence together in my house! We do eat out a fair amount and have for years with our four kids. There are many variations that have existed over the years, very early dinners, one parent walking around outside with child, bringing all sorts of toys/coloring books, carry out and eating anywhere but a restaurant. Now we very rarely ever do anything that isn't quick food. No sitting down, ordering, waiting for the food to cook, etc... We have several local, good restaurants where you order in line and the food is done quickly. We rotate through those and only branch out if we are forced to. Even with those types of places, Dh and I shovel our food in like there is no tomorrow in preparation of some child melting. Faster you eat means that you actually just might get to finish your dinner that night! Relaxing it is not though. More like we have to eat and no one got home before 6pm and every child is suddenly dying of hunger.
When it gets better just depends on the kid. My 6 year old has the attention span of a gnat and still gets antsy with a 10 minute wait for food to cook. My 10 year old is really good at nice restaurants and frequently goes out with just dad at the posh sushi restaurant in town.
To offer a different viewpoint:
We didn't eat out from when the first kiddo was 17 months until the second kiddo was 3 (so, almost 4 years). That's no joke. We did takeout from sit down places and brought it home if we were in the mood, or for an occasion like a birthday or if my parents were visiting or something. It just was never, ever worth the effort to us to walk them around, keep them occupied with toys/etc., pass the kid from lap to lap, take turns eating, and grab the check as soon as we could just to not have to cook or get out of the house - ugh, I'm tense just thinking about it, it's the complete opposite of the reason I go out to eat (so I don't have to be "on" or do any "work"). Our kids are quite active, if you get my drift. When the youngest was 3 and the oldest was 5, they could both finally sit through a sit down meal without much hassle and we didn't have to work at anything because they were ready.
It just wasn't worth it to us to try to "train" them sooner than they were developmentally ready for it. We got no enjoyment out of it and didn't see it as a necessity of life to be able to eat at a restaurant that young, so we found other ways to not cook/clean/get out of the house if we were burnt out.
FWIW, we always had them sit at the table for meals at home, and they did much better at home than when out when they were young - they did not leave the table until they were done at home and could sit for 20-ish minutes at home, but at a restaurant, it was just too much stimulation of EVERYTHING and they went into overload. So "practicing at home" didn't do anything for our particular kids, they just had to mature to that level on their own.
"They" say pick your battles, and this was just not one that was worth it to us.
20 minutes? Wow, a dinner out for us is never less than an hour, usually in the 1.5 hr range. I think for us it's like the gambling theory - you win sometimes, so you keep playing. ;) Sometimes DD is so good that it's just like having another adult there with us - she doesn't complain, smiles and waves at everyone, plays with her crayons, eats nicely, and is patient. It is SUCH a joy then and she clearly enjoys it too. Plus it's fun to have other people come up to you and say your baby is so well behaved (if only they saw her some of the other times!). But it's not always easy to predict what our experience will be like.
I have no clue how people manage it with more than one child though, even when they're a little older it must still take not inconsiderable effort. Not sure what we will do when #2 comes along...
As a matter of fact, I just got back from eating out with them, now almost 7 and 9 years old, and it was an absolute delight...fun conversation, they order for themselves, they talk up the wait staff, etc. - but 5 years ago? Madness. Lol.
For a large portion of their first 6-8 years on earth I felt like one of those cartoon brawl clouds when I was out with them... Just a whirling mass of noise and arms and legs plowing through space -a constant stream of questions and answers and ideas and theories and more questions. They charge life head on and my best effort is holding the reigns with all my might to make sure they don't overturn the cart. Lol. Some days are still like that-but we have more days now where they're able to slow down and we have a more pleasant time. They just want to suck every last drop of experience and knowledge out of every place we are and every thing we do. Which is going to make them kickass adults, but is fairly exhausting to parent. Lol!
Our daughter is actually really good in restaurants. Usually we go out with friends. When she was younger we'd bring toys for her to play with at her place, and between that and getting passed around from person to person, she did great. Now that she can walk we'll let her get down and roam if space allows (usually we don't eat at peak times or really popular places, so a lot of tables are empty). Usually we let her roam or get passed around from adult to adult until the food arrives, and let her play with utensils, straws, etc. Then we're able to feed her and finish our food, though we can't necessarily linger or get dessert before she starts getting antsy. I think since we've eaten out once or twice a month since she's been tiny, it's a somewhat familiar situation for her, and since we don't typically get out a whole lot, the variety keeps her interested. Also she likes a variety of food, and is a very even-tempered child in general. We got lucky!
I like the idea of ordering for her and asking them to bring it right out. We often order an appetizer or something that we think will specifically suit her, but I keep forgetting that you can order off the menu and/or ask for food right away.
Noisy restaurants are key for us - that way if DD (16.5mos) squeels with glee, it doesn't disrupt anyone if it's already noisy! We go to our local sports bar/restaurant up the road, sit on the restuarant side, and with the games going on the big tv's it drowns out baby talk, plus there are tvs near each table that we can put cartoons on if need be.
I think it depends heavily on temperament. Some kids are happy as a clam to sit quietly and color, listen to their parents talk, look out a window. That is not our child, haha! DS is 23 months, and we still avoid restaurants if at all possible (take-out is our friend). He is just a total whirlwind of curiosity and energy (I like the cartoon brawl cloud!) - so many questions to ask, things to see, strangers to chat up, new sights & smells, things to try to climb on, TVs, aquariums, letters, numbers, etc. One of us inevitably is up from the table walking him around the entire time (except for super brief pitstops, when he will stop to talk to adults at the table, snag a bite of salad, play with a toy, annnndddd he's off! ZOOOM!). His brain and his body are just waaaay too active sucking up every last drop of this experience.
One day, we will go back to restaurants. One day.
~ Lucky wife of DH and loving mama to DS (04/11) ~
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I agree it varies so much from child to child.
We go out to eat quite a bit and travel a lot too, so for DS (almost 3) it's a pretty normal situation. We have our favorite places and our local Italian restaurant loves DS and they always take him to the little "staff" table which has a tv near it, put on the kids channel, and bring him his meal there. They also always bring him ice cream. So it's a special treat (the tv and ice cream) and he generally loves it!
But otherwise we do the tag team where one eats and the other wanders around with DS. It's easier in summer when you can go outside. Also, some restaurants are just set up better for kids wandering and playing around, and it helps to go very early, I do not like taking him out to eat in a crowded restaurant.
We often travel to Holland and the Dutch have the right idea: lots of restaurants have a play corner with toys and games and books, etc for children and it is such a brilliant concept!! We love Holland!!!
Mama since 2010
Multicultural living in Europe
I can't imagine that the dining out experience with a toddler for most families could be described as relaxing, unless your LO is asleep! Ever since DD learned to walk, someone is up walking around with her the whole time. She will color for about 1 minute, then it's time to walk again. When the food is ready she may eat for a few minutes, then she's off! It's a shame for our family as eating out is something we've always done at least once a week, and I've become a real crankpot about it. I do. not. like walking around with DD the whole time, it's not worth it! But we keep trying...
Happy Wife Since '05 and NEW MOM! in '12
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Honestly, my stay-at-home life with DD is no piece of cake, but she is a JOY at restaurants and cafes. It's so weird. She just loves the social aspect of it, and the stimulation. "Everybody's eating, mommy!" We will often go together on playdates with another little friend of hers to, say, the fancy restaurant at the art museum. Every time I think that it's not going to work, and then she does great, and eats and eats and eats....My day is coming, though, I just know it. It's way to good to be true.