Enjoy eating out with your toddler.
EATING out is part of our rich Malaysian culture. We have many family-style restaurants to choose from. Some even provide babysitting services while you dine. However, I do not encourage parents to let a complete stranger remove their child to another area.
While it is a good idea to cultivate healthy eating habits and proper table manners in your child from young, do not have expectations which are beyond your child’s ability to cope. Children cannot sit still for long and they cannot eat everything you want them to try.
Toddlers are curious. When they are presented with new things in a positive manner, they will try them. As they grow older, they may develop their own preferences and start to be picky about food.
Studies have shown that repeated introductions to different foods can help to develop children’s taste buds. On average, it takes about 10 attempts before children will even try a new food, let alone enjoy it.
You will want your child to enjoy eating out and trying all kinds of foods. Start by choosing a suitable restaurant and an appropriate time to take your child out. Pack some stuff that can help to enhance the dining experience.
Dining out is not for every young child. Some are ready to sit still but most get restless very easily.
Conduct some trial runs at home before going out. Get the whole family to pretend that you are eating at a restaurant. This can be quite fun.
During the toddler years, children are curious and are always looking for something to do with their hands. Choose a restaurant where food can arrive in small portions like dim sum, tapas or even wraps. It is even better if you can roll the wrap at your table. This is a nice hands-on distraction for a restless toddler.
When my children were very young, we chose restaurants with high noise level and lots of activities. Our children’s voices did not bounce off the walls and the many activities around helped keep them entertained.
Know your child’s timing. For any young child, the faster the food arrives at the table, the better he will behave. Try pre-ordering before leaving the house. Go early before the peak hour starts. You are more likely to be seated immediately and get served quickly.
Most restaurants do not offer appetisers suitable for young children. Peanuts and pickles are not safe for them. Bring your own starters if you are going out with your child. Add an element of fun in your toddler’s snack box; use cut-out pictures to line the box to make it more interesting.
Don’t take a hungry toddler to a restaurant. Our mothers and grandmothers have always fed children first before leaving the house. This is an age-old child-rearing practice that should continue. If you are taking young children to a wedding dinner, food may not be served until 8.30pm.
A hungry child will probably be too cranky and irritable to enjoy the dining experience. A small snack prior to dining at the restaurant will keep off hunger pangs.
Do not allow your toddler to wander around the restaurant. This can be dangerous as most restaurants are not child-proof. There have been incidents when children were scalded by hot soups or injured when they knocked against glass tables or heavy chairs.
Request for a table where there is more space for your child. Bring along some interesting toys, a favourite storybook, or paper and crayons to keep your toddler occupied for a short period of time.
Some parents prepare special bags for dining out. These bags may contain a new toy – something novel to engage the child’s interest – and a favourite game to keep them focused.
When nothing works and your child just cannot sit still, ask for the bill and leave quickly. Avoid scolding or forcing the child to behave.
This will only make it worse for future dining out experiences.
Children like happy memories to help them learn to do better the next time round.