5 Tips for Eating Out with Kids

tips for eating out with kidsBefore J was walking a ton, we went out to dinner… a LOT. Not only was this expensive, but we both wound up gaining about 10 pounds. Still, it was great to have what we realize now was our last hurrah for at least a few years. So I thought I’d round up my five top tips for eating out with kids. It’s worth noting at the outset that a lot of this comes down to frequency and training — the more often you go out, the easier it will be to have a well-behaved child. Here are my TOP FIVE tips for eating out with kids:


  • Get in and out quickly. If you can, know what you want to eat, and order quickly — the more time you spend at the table without food or another activity for your kiddo, the deadlier it will be. If your child’s meal will take longer to make (oven baked macaroni! freshly baked pizza!) then order theirs when you order your drinks, and be clear with the server that you’d like it to come asap. (God bless the servers who have learned this important lesson!)
  • Bring snacks! Baby Mum Mums, applesauce pouches, yogurt pouches… these are all shelf-stable things that you can keep in your diaper bag. We would also try to bring more fruits or veggies from home, such as pre-cut grapes or apples, or some nuked broccoli or carrots. We found it helpful to space snacks out during the course of the meal, so that if Jack started to get bored we could throw another snack at him. If you find your supplies dwindling, note that if you ask nicely, bartenders may be willing to throw a few olives towards the cause. (Do all toddlers love olives as much as mine?)
  • how-to-eat-out-with-kidsWhen it’s time to go, it’s time to go. We’ve ordered appetizers and then had to ask for them to be packed up to go because our kiddo was being fussy. (Pictured: once, we had to leave so early that my husband still hadn’t drunk most of his martini — let’s just say I got creative.) In my limited experience, a kiddo will not recover from a meltdown that occurs while dining out — you can bounce him up and down the sidewalk for hours and still never finish your meal — so it’s best to just pack it up and leave if he’s fussy. In the beginning this only happened on rare occasions… but as Jack got more independent with walking and wanted to explore, play on the floor, and so forth (which we obviously wouldn’t permit), that led to us packing it up more often. When the time change happened that fall and it got super dark, super early, our dining-out days were over (for the most part). This rule applies even if the restaurant is empty except for you and the staff — but it does bring us to an important corollary:
  • Respect thy other diners. Particularly after a certain time (I’d say 7 PM), it doesn’t matter which restaurant you pick — your child is on borrowed time. If they’re perfect and angelic for the entire meal, wonderful! But what’s acceptable at 5PM in terms of volume/fussiness is totally different at 7PM. I’d also say that sometimes you have to step outside of your role as parent and remember how other people think — even if your child is behaving WONDERFULLY for her, she may still be a demon child as far as other diners are concerned. My husband and I still remember a meal we had when we were pregnant with Jack: A table next to us had 3-4 adults and about as many kids, probably mostly under 6 — all of them proceeded to take the silverware and bang it like maniacs, loudly. Maybe this was a “low roar” to the parents, but it absolutely horrified us. The restaurant wasn’t super fancy (if memory serves, we were there with a Groupon) but it was probably around 7:30 or 8.
  • As a last resort: ice cream and iPhones. I’m not a huge fan of giving our kiddo a movie to watch during dinner, or giving him ice cream to get through the meal… but if we want to dine out and don’t have a babysitter for Jack, I’ll admit that we’ve done both to get to an end of a meal.

I haven’t yet mastered the art of dining out with a Very Curious and Emotional 4-Year-Old (other than picking your restaurants well, and getting in and out quickly), and I’d love to hear if you guys have any tips. Ladies, how often do you dine out with your child? What are your best tips?  

Social media pictures via Stencil.

We rounded up our top FIVE tips for eating out with kids with style and grace, including how to not annoy everyone sitting around you and when to call it quits.


  1. EB0220 says:

    We always travel with our “go bag” that contains a few shelf-stable milks, kid-sized utensils and some snacks. I also love the Summer Infant Tiny Diner and a pocket bib to contain the mess. We always go early (5-5:30). We eat outside when we can, as things seem to be more relaxed on the patio in general. We don’t hesitate to take a kid outside of she’s being melty. My husband and I usually switch off outside-kid duty for as long as it takes.

  2. Philanthropy Girl says:

    We take Philanthropy Baby out maybe once a week, maybe a little less. He is usually very very good. Snacks are our lifesaver. A thoughtful manager last night brought us grapes and apples which solved the problem of a very slow server. I always take PB’s own little fork and spoon along with his sippy, and I stash some baby food in the diaper bag in case the kid’s menu is shy on vegetables.

    PB is a good eater and a pretty mild mannered kid – so as long as you can toss him scooby snacks, he’s in good shape. I keep a lovey, a plastic dinosaur, a small car and a stash of board books in the diaper bag for any time we don’t have food on the table. We also avoid any place that might not be kid friendly, and save the swanky places for date night.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This was the best pinterest pin I’ve ever come across. Finding the bags was hard (target occasionally has them online) but otherwise it’s been great. We keep them stocked with current toy obsessions (small Lego sets, those animal toobs, and paper dolls right now) and have one in each car.


    • EB0220 says:

      That is awesome! I am so going to make one.

    • Amelia Bedelia says:

      this. is. genius.

    • Pigpen's Mama says:

      This is great — I’m putting one together stat for my car.

    • In House Lobbyist says:

      I made a ton of “busy bags” for ours for or 9 hour road trip this summer. The bags came from the Dollar Tree and were mostly a hit. Some were tossed aside quickly. But very easy and I use in the car and for restaurants now.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This was the best pinterest pin I’ve ever come across. Finding the bags was hard (target occasionally has them online) but otherwise it’s been great. We keep them stocked with current toy obsessions (small Lego sets, those animal toobs, and paper dolls right now) and have one in each car.


  5. Pigpen's Mama says:

    We go out with the Pigpen way more than we should — but it’s waned now that she’s over a year old and less amenable. The best time was between 10 months and a year — she was pretty comfortable with eating with her hands and wasn’t picky. Mealtimes in general have been rough the last month or so because she’s pickier about her food and wants to use a spoon (thanks daycare!) or shoves fistfuls of food in her mouth.

    We try to clean up her mess and tip well. We may put down a disposable mat for her to eat off of, but once she’s no longer interested in eating, she tears it off. Same thing with bibs.

    Toys that have been helpful are hand puppets and Squigz (link in reply) — they suction to the table and she has fun pulling and poking them. She’s also pretty happy to look around and check out the scene — she’s a nosy baby, so it’s actually pretty funny. Bonus if there are kids who are 5-12 around, she loves watch them (and seemingly even more if it’s a boy, which I’m not sure is my observational bias or a real thing).

    • Pigpen's Mama says:

      These things — http://www.amazon.com/Squigz-Starter-24-piece-set/dp/B00DEBB3N0

      I’m not sure they are really baby safe, however — I don’t give her the smaller ones and we’re there with her when she’s playing with them, since she’s still in the “put everything but vegetables in her mouth” stage.

      We also have these, which are baby safe –http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H4IQ3P2/ref=s9_hps_bw_g21_i2 a

  6. Maddie Ross says:

    We take the babe out pretty often (almost 3 now). We’re busy and it’s hard to cook at home all the time, and we really enjoy it frankly. The secret, we’ve found, is to do more breakfasts and lunches out, and if doing dinner, go on the early side. Places like Mexican restaurants where there is food (chips and salsa) immediately are helpful (and honestly, most hole in the wall Mexican places are filled with young diners – cheap, quick, and high tolerance for noise). I disagree heartedly with the idea to get their food out first. When we’ve done that, we’re left with a full child who’s ready to play before our food has even come out. I think it’s helpful for their food to come out with yours, both for training purposes (i.e., building patience, no special treatment, manners, etc.) and to allow everyone the opportunity to eat. We’re pretty flexible about movies on the iphone if it comes to it, but I do try and encourage crayons and paper first. It’s good to have as a last resort though.

  7. Desperate for sleep says:

    Hi all, I am in my first trimester with my first baby and I am having some insomnia issues. Usually when I am not pregnant, I use something for 1-2 nights to fall asleep and I am able to break the cycle. My OB’s office has Tylenol PM listed as a medication that is fine to take during pregnancy but I am still super nervous about taking it. Has anyone taken Tylenol PM during pregnancy?

    • Due in December says:

      Posting late, but in case you see this…sorry, insomnia during pregnancy is not fun. Anecdotally, I tried to take the equivalent of Tylenol PM during my 1st trimester (doctor said it was fine), but it didn’t actually work for me as well as it did prior to pregnancy. I still didn’t sleep well, and was groggy in the morning. So just be prepared for that.

      • Desperate for sleep says:

        Thanks very much :) I took a Diphenhydramine only pill last night and it actually helped me get some sleep. It may have been just the placebo affect but I am very thankful! I have had insomnia issues for years and I expect that pregnancy will only worsen them. I keep telling myself that it is training for being a sleep deprived parent! Assuming you are due this December, I hope you are feeling well and that everything goes smoothly! Thank you for the advice!

  8. We don’t take the kids (20 month old twins) out to dinner. Their bedtime is 7:00 and the grown-ups in the house typically eat dinner at 8:00 (boys eat at about 5:30). We do take them out to brunch however! Lots and lots of brunch! It’s perfect — they go down for nap about 12:30, so it’s pretty easy to go out for an early brunch around 10:00 and get home without them conking out in the car.

    Generally, we ask the waiter for bread immediately. Or tortillas or whatever they have. We also ask for whole milk and often the waiter will take the sippy cups into the kitchen to fill directly. We bring lots of board books. We pull the high chairs up to the table and let them eat the food directly off the table. They don’t use plates at home and eat directly off their high chair trays and I absolutely do not trust them not to throw plates at a restaurant. (Or more likely pick them up to inspect them and let the food slide off onto the floor.) I sometimes order them a kid’s meal to share, but often I just order a side for them and then we feed them off of our plates. (It’s often the whole crew — my husband, me, my MIL, the au pair, and the kids — so plenty of adult entrees to share.) They do really, really, really well. Once one of my guys had a total meltdown because I wouldn’t give him my cup of hot coffee. We walked around outside for a bit and he eventually was okay to come back in. But it was a close one. We try to wipe the food off the table with baby wipes and pick up as much of the mess on the floor as possible. And then we leave a huge tip.

  9. CPA Lady says:

    1. Huge tip

    2. I ask for the bill to come with the food so I can pay right away. That way if she starts having a meltdown, I don’t have to wait 15 minutes for the entire “flag down the waiter, ask for the check, pay, pack up, etc” process and can just get going. That said I pretty much am always by myself with my kid because of my husband’s work schedule. It might be different if I had another person to help or take her outside or whatever.

  10. NewMomAnon says:

    I leave a big tip, and I usually order a meal for kiddo and ask for a box on the side. It’s less about the amount of food she needs, and more in deference to the waiter’s pay at the end of the meal; my kiddo takes more wait staff effort than an adult, so I want to make sure the waiter is compensated for that. Plus, the leftovers are usually enough for a full meal later.

    I second brunch as a perfect “meal out with kids.” Early breakfast (my kiddo wakes around 6 every day of the week) is another good one, because there is usually no wait. Restaurants that take reservations are the best!!! I don’t even know how I would keep my kiddo happy during a wait AND a meal.

  11. Thank you for these helpful tips. I’m a first-time mom and am always searching for tips & tricks I can use or even things to look out for.

  12. Heather says:

    When my son was a baby the strategies in the post worked well. Now that he is a toddler we use toddler ‘busy bags’ (google it for tons of examples). I pack a zippered pencil case (available on amazon) and fill with toys that he only gets to play with at restaurants. You can get cheap stuff at dollar stores or the Target dollar bin. Usually accompanied by a Water Wow, or another bag filled with crayons, stickers, coloring book (many restaurants don’t give them out these days). This gets us through most of the meal, along with snacks as described by others.

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