Dining with toddlers might appear to be an example of chaos theory in action. You might marvel that it’s possible for matter to be that evenly distributed on every available surface and casually wonder whether your cashmere sweater is really dry-clean only. But mostly it will be sensory overload; there will be projectiles, noisy demands, and a veritable palette of colours being smeared over the toddler’s person and everything within reach. Although it appears as though the toddlers are trying to make things as insane as possible and that they don’t know where their mouth is, there are actually some very specific rules around toddler table etiquette. If you don’t pay attention to these rules the world might just spin right off it’s axis and your toddler will scream until the problem is solved.
It’s remarkable that altruistic tendencies start so early in life, and the toddler really takes sharing to heart. A universal mom experience is having a cheerio shoved up your nose in the early days of finger foods. Eventually their aim, diet and demanding nature matures enough that you will find yourself eating a half chewed piece of beef coated with raspberries and cheese. Even if you didn’t serve cheese with dinner, and you have been out of cheese for two days.
The toddler will also try and share with two month old babies they meet at the park, their stuffed animals, the couch, the speech therapist, your boss, and whoever else they might meet. Don’t try to deny them; if they can’t get it in your mouth it will get pasted to your fancy $300 dress shirt (not mine, I haven’t worn anything that costs more than $7 in more than 2 years). Don’t forget to praise them for sharing.
It’s only after years of conditioning that we accept that a plate or bowl is the only thing you can eat out of. Then at some point fancy chefs decide that it’s cutting edge to eat soup out of a coconut or novel to use a scallop shell to eat ceviche. We could skip getting in touch with our creative process if we just looked to toddlers for inspiration. Here are some creative serving ideas.
Rim of diaper:
Both appetizing and portable.
Forgo plates entirely and lick right off the table:
Combining a passion for art and peanut butter.
While you might be tempted to cover everything in plastic and don a hazmat suit for the average lunchtime, we often adopt a nudist policy at mealtimes as skin proves to be fairly easy to clean. While clothing is optional, hats are not.
Your own hat:
If you don’t have a hat, you must improvise:
(Note posture in above; feet on table is preferred)
Finally, it is very important for toddlers to express their feelings about the meal. If they enjoyed the food they might clean their plate:
If not, they’ll just throw everything on the floor and scream until someone does something about it.
When a guest in someone else’s home the toddler may also want to leave a thank you note. They can’t write, so they may leave a little momento of their own.
Now remember these rules next time an unruly toddler is sitting next to you in a restaurant. Chances are, he’s not wearing a hat and you should rush right over and put a bucket on his head immediately. This will almost always resolve the issue and the toddler’s parents will be impressed and pleased with your toddler taming skills.