One of the joys of travel for me is food. Each town, country, culture, and environs, has unique cuisine which not only reflects the local culture, but can taste darn good. However, going out to eat with a toddler is hell challenging. I am lucky to get five minutes of Mirielle’s time at a table with the rest of the visit spent running around, exploring, or as some like to say, “making a scene.”
In my BC days (before child), I would not wish this solution upon my worst enemy, but, I have found that food courts can be wonderful for dining with small children who would rather run around. Yes, those tween-filled, Sbarro-supporting dining halls are a great way to experience local food with energized toddlers.
Last week, I put two and two together (two year old, and two adults wanting dinner) and we decided to visit the food court at our local mall. The mall is being renovated so they moved the play area next to the food court. Huzzah!! Good cheap food and a safe place for Mirielle to run around in eye sight.
Good food at a food court you ask? Don’t eat at Sbarro (or any other standard chain). In the US, planning commissions are requiring local eateries to be included in new development or renovations so you find more local or regional choices. There is often a gem like the great Thai food place in our local mall, Jhan Thong. One can eat well in a food court.
So my local mall has an acceptable food court, how does that help with traveling? Food court style eating is found almost everywhere. There may not be a playground adjacent, but many set-ups are great for toddlers and hungry parents: hawker courts in Singapore, farmers markets in North America, eateries at tourist sites, food courts at malls (there are malls almost everywhere), food markets in department stores, food courts at airports, museum restaurants with patios and if you hit pay dirt, eateries in parks.
In the San Francisco area, where we live, some great examples are:
• Westfield San Francisco (mall): great food and a super “family room” off the food court with pump/BF rooms, changing tables, TV, toys, and a family bathroom with adult and kid size toilets & sinks side by side.
• Palace of Legion of Honor: enclosed patio with lots of birds to chase.
• De Young museum: sculpture garden off of restaurant with outdoor tables and lots of space to picnic.
• Farmers market: behind the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays, there is room to chase seagulls near food kiosks.
• Crissy Field: the Warming Hut with organic food, great views, hills to climb, and a beach nearby.
• Airport: SFO international terminal has great local food and lots of open space before security.
From our most recent travels:
• Hong Kong: The Peak Galleria has a playground plus Café Deco has a play area; there are always office buildings with eateries next to one of the fantastic parks like Kowloon Park, or restaurants in a park like Hong Kong Park.
• Halifax Nova Scotia: Harbourside Market at Historic Properties, the Canteen at Halifax Public Gardens, french fries from the truck on Spring Garden Road in front of the library.
• Oahu: Kolohe’s Beach Bar & Grill at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club (great for sunset), snack bar at Dole Plantation. (Mirielle was still BF so the list is short)
• Bali: Beach side restaurants in Sanur, Ku De Ta in Seminyak, beach front restaurants in Jimbaran (on calm days), Strawberry Stop near Ulun Danu Temple.
• Singapore: Globetrotters restaurant with kids play area, eatery in botanical gardens, many hawker and mall food courts are kid-friendly.
Important things to look for to uncover the toddler-friendly food court:
• New or recently renovated malls or public facilities are more likely to be family friendly and have more local food in the US.
• Combine eating with sightseeing or playground stops – historical sites, parks and even museums often have large open areas that are enclosed. Many have upgraded their food service.
• Pedestrian zones – often have outdoor seating and more flexibility with toddlers running around.
• Off-peak hours are always more toddler-friendly.
This won’t solve how to get a toddler to sit down and eat, but at least parents can restore much needed energy and sample some local cuisine.