Going Out to Dinner with Kids While on a Sleep Schedule

Infant Sleep · Nutrition, Behavior & More · Toddler Sleep · Travel Tips

Dining out with kids can be something you put off doing once you have your little on a great sleep schedule. But, if you have visions of eating dinner together at a restaurant AND staying on track with bedtime, I’m here to tell you (with a little planning), that can be a reality.

1. Work naps in your favor.

If your little one is still napping, there are two things you can do before going out for dinner. First, try pushing afternoon nap back, up to 30 minutes. If your child is sensitive to awake times, or that isn’t possible, you can also let them sleep a bit longer than they are used to so that your wake time gets pushed a little later in the night.

2. Time it right before bedtime.

Assume that a meal will take about 60-90 minutes at most family-friendly restaurants, and factor in drive time. You will have about a 30-minute flex window if you need to adjust your child’s bedtime later. Often catching the “early bird” special is the most ideal time to bring your child(ren) so they aren’t hungry (and tired) as you sit down at a restaurant.

3. Preview the menu.

If your child is eating solids, take a look at the menu ahead of time to make sure there are options they like. Some family-friendly restaurants will offer to serve kids first so they don’t get too hungry while waiting, and some may offer bread for the table (which could be your child’s favorite!), too. Just like at home, protein and healthy fats at dinner will help support healthy sleep. Avoid milk and dessert with dinner since those can impact sleep negatively. That said, since we have a hard time passing up dessert ourselves, splitting something so everyone gets a little bite can also be a good solution.

Allowing young children to bring a small toy out to dinner can help pass the time waiting for food and make dining out a more enjoyable experience for everyone. This child has a small ice cream truck to play with at the restaurant.

4. Pack a bag of goodies.

Not only will some fun items from home help keep your child engaged at the restaurant, but they will also help your child stay wide awake for the car ride home! For toddlers, offering some choice is always beneficial. If they have a tiny purse or fanny pack to call their own, have them pick a few things to bring along. Crayons and paper, figurines, or even some small books are great options for younger kids. As they grow, paper and pen (for tic-tac-toe or hanging spiders), a deck of cards for go fish, a tube of plus plus, or a book can be fun. And never underestimate a good car ride karaoke!

While we knowing going out to dinner can require a bit more planning when keeping your child’s sleep schedule in mind, it will also get easier the more you do it! These nights can end up making for some great family memories. If you happen to get off track for a night that is okay, too!

By Katie Pitts, Founder & CEO of Sleep Wise Consulting

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