Work-at-home parent tips: Taking your toddler out to dinner

How work-at-home parents can take their child out to dinner

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Leisure is crucial for work-at-home moms. It’s easy to spend countless hours focused on your business and on parenting. But remember, caring for yourself makes you a better business owner and mom.

One of my favorite memories as a new mom was when we took our little guy out for breakfast at this super hipster cafe here in Columbus when he was only a couple months old. We tried so hard to time it right between feedings and sleeping so that he would be happy.

The place was packed shoulder to shoulder. We ended up sitting at a table with two other women and awkwardly, the only place to put the baby carrier was next to them and not next to us.

These women kindly said they didn’t mind and we could see our son just fine from where we were at. They smiled and cooed at him until he fell asleep, which never happened normally. That child took rocking, nursing, bouncing and much more to fall asleep normally. But here he was in a busy cafe with every hip young person in town talking loudly and he fell asleep and my husband and I got a morning date we weren’t expecting.

I learned something valuable that day. The sounds your child is making seem way louder to you. What you could call misbehaving likely seems like kids being kids to other people.

When you take children out to restaurants, you’ll be surrounded by other parents who have been there and done that. Our waiter for my birthday dinner this year was so fantastic with my son and we were at a semi-fancy restaurant. I was amazed that they didn’t frown upon us bringing a 15-month-old with us.

Take those babies with you! If you have to box up the food and eat it at home once or twice, that’s OK. But don’t sacrifice time with your spouse or your family out of fear that you can’t take a toddler to a restaurant.

Here are my tips for taking a squirmy and super active toddler out to dinner without stress or mishaps.

I pack food I know he will eat

Going out to a restaurant can be nerve-wracking because you just never know what your child might eat. To avoid leaving with a hungry child, I always pack food I know my toddler will eat.

The surefire tool for me is a spinach smoothie. He can drink the smoothie while he wiggles around or even goes for a little walk around the restaurant before our food comes. And making the smoothie ahead of time is super easy.

We allow him to try the foods we have

Our little guy always wants what we have. At least at first and then sometimes, he loses interest once he has tried it.

We always allow him to try some. He sometimes surprises me with the foods he enjoys. He doesn’t seem to mind mildly spicy food and eats a surprising variety of vegetables (except for Brussels sprouts, which he positively hates!).

Trying new foods is good for children and the intrigue can keep them occupied.

When things get tough, we bring out books and toys

The lull between ordering food and it arriving can be a challenging time for children. There isn’t much going on for them to watch or do. This is the time that we generally pull out toys and books from the diaper bag.

While this time of dinner is not a great time to catch up with my spouse, it’s still good family time. A restaurant was the first time we saw our son use crayons and paper. It was fun to be together as a family for that moment and share in the experience.

Allow him to wander when he can

Before your food arrives, get all those wiggles out. It’s nice to have dinner at the mall where there’s plenty of room to walk or run with your child before sitting them down for an hour or so.

On days I know we’ll be eating out, I try to make sure my son has had plenty of unstructured time to run. Days, when he spends more time in a car seat or strapped down in some other way, is not an ideal day to go out. 

Time in the highchair and time on our laps

When we really need our toddler to be in the highchair, he sits there but before that, we let him sit on our laps and explore a bit more. The less time he is strapped in, the better.

And once the food arrives we want him strapped in so that our hands are free to eat and so are his. He’s fiercely independent so there’s no chance of feeding him while he’s on our laps.

Mix it up where you go

Go to different places so that your little one has different things to look at and people to interact with. We recently went to a restaurant called Molly Woos where they had chandeliers that positively fascinated our little guy. If we went back the following week, they probably would not have the same intrigue.

Plus, it’s more fun for mom and dad to have new places to go than to just go to the same place each week.

Work-at-home mom tips: why you need leisure

I have mom friends who claim they would never take their babies or toddlers out to dinner. And so they never go out with their spouses because heaven knows babysitting is expensive and takes extra time and energy to coordinate.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to give up date night once you have children. Sure, it’s different and I’m not sure we’ll be able to do it as much once we have to buy kids meals for my son. But to me, that time out of the house and relaxing with my husband is an important element of my work-at-home mom life.

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