5 Survival Tips for Eating at Restaurants with Kids
Words Kasey Hickey
I love going out to eat, but going out to eat with kids? Stressful! But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you go in with the right mindset and some key items, you’ll find that eating out might actually be easier than eating in (hello no dishes and no vacuuming under the kitchen table). Here’s what’s worked for me.
1. Stick with Tried-and-True at First
Unless your child is a seasoned restaurant-goer, start with a place that will be the least stressful for you, the most fun for them, and stick with what they’re familiar with. Try to go somewhere close to home, and if your child is able to enjoy big people food, order something they know they’ll like (like noodles, rice and beans, or simply a side of scrambled eggs). Avoid scheduling brunch dates if you know your kid is tired and ready for naptime by 11 a.m., and try to do dinner during “family hour” — between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. You’re more likely to be surrounded by other families and you won’t have to stress about disrupting someone else’s date night.
2. Kids Menus? Stroller-Friendly?
Scout out the restaurant ahead of time. Will they have a kids menu? Or at least food your child is guaranteed to like (such as avocado, rice and beans, or scrambled eggs)? Is the space small? If so, you might not want to bring your stroller. Will they provide coloring books? In that case, leave yours at home. Will it be loud? Is there a noise level that makes your child uncomfortable or stressed? The more you know, the more at ease you’ll be when you get there.
3. Prepare for a Mess (And Accept It Will Happen)
No matter what you do, your child will probably make a mess. Come prepared with plenty of wipes (I love this on-the-go wipes dispenser) so you can wipe down the table and the high chair before and after your meal. But also consider the importance of teaching your child what it means to dine out: give them a napkin (if they’re old enough to use one), and bring a set of utensils they can use to “practice” eating like mommy and daddy. Toddlers love to imitate and instilling good eating out habits early will make it easier and more fun to go on outings as they get older.
4. Get Them in on the Action
If you’re going to commit to eating out as a family, make sure your kids feel like they’re part of the meal. Bring a portable booster seat like this one so kids as young as 15 months can feel like they’re sitting at the table. Make sure they have something to eat and drink, too. Your child is unlikely to eat everything you’re having (if that’s inaccurate then congratulations!) so be sure to pack their favorite snack in a snack cup that won’t make a mess or bring a pre-made baby puree in a travel-friendly storage container. Don’t forget the bib and spoon (this one easily rolls and fits the dirty spoon inside its pocket so you won’t have any spills in your bag). Be sure to bring a leak-proof sippy cup and ask the waiter to fill it with water or milk.
5. Be Ready to Jet
Against all your best intentions, some outings are going to go haywire. I always like to ask for the check soon after the food arrives, and am prepared to take my food to-go as needed. But don’t despair: every outing is different and there’s always an opportunity to try again.
Do you have any other tips we should add to our list?