I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of eating at a restaurant with my toddler. I didn’t enjoy it much when Brady was my only child and now that I have two, it’s obviously double the work.
We could of course never go to a restaurant or always get a sitter but sometimes you just
totally don’t want to cook want a nice family dinner out. Sometimes, you momentarily forget about the time he dumped his whole plate on the floor or when she screamed so loud for so long you had to ask for your meal to go. So you go for it. You pack them up and you head to your favorite spot.
Here’s what I do in order to keep my toddler from acting like a wild animal at a restaurant.
How To Survive A Restaurant With A Toddler
1. Pick a noisy place. It doesn’t have to be a sports bar or somewhere with loud music blaring, but don’t pick a place where you know you’ll be shushing your kids every 30 seconds.
2. Bring their own cup. Even if they have plastic kids cups with a lid, my toddler will still spill it. She’s just not great at drinking out of a cup. I know if I don’t bring her own with me that I’ll have to help her hold a cup (fighting her because she thinks she can do it on her own) the whole time and she will leave wearing most of it.
3. Choose a restaurant that brings food out immediately. Like a Mexican restaurant that brings chips, or an Italian place that brings bread-sticks or any restaurant that leaves peanuts on the table or serves a bread basket. Something to give them to snack quickly helps.
4. Bring electronics to entertain. Eventually they’ll get bored, it’s going to happen, and the crayons they hand out don’t hold my kids attention for longer than a minute. That is why we have iPhones and tablets. Save the big guns for last, though, because eventually they’ll get bored with that, too.
5. Go when the conditions are favorable. Do not take your little one to a restaurant when they haven’t napped. Or when they have already thrown five tantrums that day. Or when you just know you’re walking into a disaster. Pick a time that they will be well rested and it’s not nearing bedtime.
Here are a few things that make eating at a restaurant with a toddler much easier:
Disposable Placemats – Keep a pack of these with you and easily cover the table so you can spread your little ones food out.
Baby Buddy Secure-A-Toy – Have they thrown their toy on the dirty restaurant floor 10 times? This little gadget keeps all their goodies off the floor – so smart.
Go Anywhere Booster – If they’ve outgrown the high-chair (or refusing it like mine does) let them sit in a regular chair by bringing this handy, compact, lightweight portable booster chair. Genius!
Cool Cap – If you forgot the sippy cup like I mentioned above, you can grab this and place it on any cup and turn it into a spill-proof toddler cup!
Stay Put Suction Bowls – Don’t worry about them tossing their plate on the ground, just use these suction bowls that will stick right on the table.
In just days, these odd, but super-effective tips will help you raise a happier, calmer toddler. Check out Happiest Toddler on The Block and tell me what you think.
Liz is a just a mom trying to keep it real about how little she sleeps, how often she gets puked on and how much she loves them. You can find her here every day writing about real-mom moments.
I always order his food ahead of ours so he doesn’t have to wait the whole time.
I often order an appetiser, usually garlic bread because it’s usually an Italian place, so there is food faster. But only an appetiser I know he’ll try or even eat. I also try to make sure that at least one parent orders something that can be shared with the child (not too spicy) in case the kid food doesn’t go over well.
We try to come a little earlier than most people, e.g., around here lunch is usually at 1:00 but we’ll go at about 12:15 so the restaurant is less crowded/we don’t feel so much shushing pressure (even if it is only in my mind).
In addition to the iPhone and restaurant crayons I’ll bring a couple of little games like we use on an airplane. There are mini car mat ideas on Pinterest and I made something like that. But I also have a few 4 piece puzzles I’ll bring. Sometimes I’ll bring little tiny polly-pocket-sized or slightly bigger animals (it’s ok because I’m watching my child like a hawk in public anyway).
I’ve also brought my own child’s bib and now that he can use straws try to keep a clean straw in my bag in case the cups are too hard to use. I once asked if they can only fill his drink half full so it isn’t so heavy and easy to spill.
Once we’ve found a good place for us, we tend to keep coming back to the same restaurant.
I carry a restaurant entertainment bag with little trinkets like mini slinkies and crayons and stickers. Sometimes this helps. Sometimes we just pick a restaurant with somewhere nearby where she can run around till the food arrives.
Janelle Falkingham says
Hmmm, what a shame. I opened this article hoping to read some great ideas of activities, table games etc like some of the other ladies mentioned. Not a article suggesting we should be making the iPad part of our hang bag essentials. I am so saddened to constantly see families sitting together for a meal only to watch the children glued to a screen the entire time, barely speaking a word to each other. Surely if we introduce this to our young children, this will be the result.
What about teaching some social skills around, patience, interaction, conversation, table manners etc?? I have a 3.5 year old and a 7 month old, so I know it’s not easy, however perhaps some hard times early will bring lovely results later on.
Totally agree! I can’t stand seeing children glued to iPads at the dinner table! How about modelling correct table etiquette, trying new foods and extending vocabulary and family relationships through conversation? It’s not rocket science, if you set the standard for meal times at home eating out should be no different. Glad most people who have commented feel the same 🙂
No kidding! Perhaps your kids are bored with the terrible crayons they hand out because they’re cheap and low-quality? I have a little tube of 12 good crayons in great colors and bring paper. My toddler’s 17 months. We bring books and a toy or two that is easily washed and we talk to her about the things we see in the restaurant. She gets read stories by the various adults we’re inevitably with (usually at least one of her grandmothers), scribbles on the paper, points at things to find out their names, and will, of course, eventually need to run around.
Sorry, but kids do NOT need tablets. They are a choice some people make, but they are absolutely not a necessity.
Absolutely agree…. Goodness millions of toddlers grew up with out tablets ..oh yeah ..they had parents who spent time with them ….there’s a new concept
My kids are only 15 months apart and I have never been in such a sticky spot that I’ve reached for my phone to veg them out. They barely watch tv. I only let them pick one show or movie a day and they take turns. I don’t even think they’d think tv would be an option.
We discuss what we’re ordering and we let the older one order her own food. She gets really excited about that “beef broccoli pwees!” We just coach her what to ask for just ahead of time.
If it’s just us, my husband will make a sound and the kids will try to mimic it until the food comes. We have kiss blowing competitions between the kids (good at home too) we make a big deal about acting grown up that helps and we just really ma j e sure to engage them.
Crayons…. everyone loves crayons.
If someone gets moody it’s usually food jealousy so we do pack snacks just in case. But mostly treating them like part of the table and interacting with them tends to work. The second we start to ignore them they get crazy.
After food comes we’re usually in the clear. My kids are hungry kidd and they usually just want to snap up as much food off of as many plates as possible so they can have a taste of everything. God forbid someone might have had better food than them.
I agree with Janelle. I have a 10 week old and will be attempting to avoid sticking technology in front of my child in order to babysit him. My husband and I are already discussing how to manage this parenting trap. It would be nice to see ideas other than Ipad and Iphone, or various other tv or technology ideas.
We have a 14 mo old and also want to avoid technology at the table. A few things that have worked for us: We have a Fisher Price booster/portable high chair that we use instead of the restaurant high chair. He’s a grabber so it keeps him back away from the table a bit. We usually keep him in our lap until the food is ordered. I always pack some food for him that we can give if the meal is taking too long. When he finishes that we share some of ours (it helps that he loves to eat ;). He has a set of teether keys that he loves and we strap those and his own sippy cup to the chair with a Booginhead sippigrip (he likes to throw them). I’m sure we will have to expand our repertoire as he gets older but these work for now!
Is that just a random pic or is it yours? I love the high chair…what brand is it?
It is a stock photo. 🙂
Thanks! I appreciate these!
To the moms with such strong opinions about the iPad idea: I understand it’s important to implement good manners, social skills, family time, etc… However, when you’re out & you see children in front of an electronic please try not to judge. You don’t know the situation behind it. Sure there are people who just haven’t tried anything else & immediately rely on iPads, etc… But there are also moms like me.
My husband and I have to travel a lot. In the past 2 months alone, we have been in 2 different countries, 2 different states, and lived in about 10 different houses. my son (19 months) has been amazing but considering the circumstances, sometimes he gets tired of being out & about. It’s not something we can change & we are happy to be out as a family- but now & then it’s just necessary.
I think we can all agree that we will choose to do things differently. So if you see parents with children watching shows or playing on an iPad or phone, just remember there could be more happening than you know.
Moms who use electronics: don’t feel bad 🙂 do what you need to do, knowing YOU are the best parent for your children & no other opinion matters!
Totally agree! Situations are different, kids are different. Do what works for you, don’t worry about what other people do!
Thanks for sharing your story, Amanda! You’re so right – each person is trying the best for their children.
Thank you for this response. I read this article agreeing that no meal out so a toddler is easy, but felt the suggestion of an iPad was totally reasonable. There are moments where I feel it is okay to allow your self a moment of reprieve, or to buy yourself some time. The assumption that some commentors have made that using technology suggests that a parent has chosen to forego teaching their child proper socialization strategies, or etiquette is a very bold and incorrect judgment. While I agree technology should be limited, it has a time and place.
I don’t like the electronic idea either and I’ll try to avoid it as much as possible but as one mom said, in some cases there’s more to it than meets the eye. Besides, we cannot isolate a child from technology. We need to be clever and intelligent about it so we can let technology help without taking our place!
My tip and/or idea? First of all, if we set standards and rules at table time in our own home it will be easier at a restaurant. If you let your child run around at home when it’s time to eat, guess what will happen at a restaurant? Another thing, try different environments to see in which you feel comfortable with a kid. There are some restaurants that are not kid friendly (and neither is their food) so, if you know that’s gonna be a headache, don’t even bother.
Every mom knows their child so we know what entertains them, use that info!!!
Good luck mommas!!
I use the straw wrappers and fold them up in little balls and we play soccer/football by flicking them into the goal made with our hands. Also use the creamer things as building blocks and stack those.
If we are at a restaurant that provides crayons & paper, we often play a drawing game where one person makes a shape (any sort of squiggle will do), and then another person has to turn it into some sort of creature (or into an object).
If there is brown paper covering the entire table, we often make a giant map, always starting with train tracks/road (because my son doesn’t go anywhere without a train or car). We then slowly add train stations, and any sort of landscape that comes to mind. The one rule with this is that once our food arrives, the game is finished until the plates are cleared.
Another favourite game is “I Spy”. This classic game has been a life saver on so many occasions. My son never says no when I suggest playing it, and it can go on for as long as you want it to.
I do bring my tablet with me for “just in case” scenarios. I’m ok with our son playing with it at times, but it is always the last thing offered. It really depends on what kind of day we’re having and where we are. 🙂
I-Spy is a great idea! We do that in the car a lot with our kids.
I think there are better ways than giving them an ipad. When I was younger, I didnt dare misbehave at a restaurant. Why have things changed so much?
So happy to see i wasnt the only 0ne to think this. We talk and include our child in whats going on,not just try to keep her quiet. Stickers and color books are what she has if things get a little boring. We are creatng a generation of techno zombies
Macaroni Kid has some great tips! http://newmilford.macaronikid.com/article/745458/easy-ways-to-keep-your-kids-busy-at-a-restaurant
I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old. Some things we do are:
Hold the 2 year old on our laps until the food comes. She won’t stay in her highchair for a long time and I like that time to be while I’m eating!
Ask for the kids’ food to come out as soon as it’s ready. That way we can cut it up, portion it out, and let it cool and maybe the kids will be eating by the time our food comes. This has the added benefit of letting me eat warm food instead of my food getting cold while I get my kids’ food ready.
Order fruit or fries and ask that they bring them out right away.
Go to restaurants at off times. Lunch at 11, dinner at 5, etc. If we can avoid waiting for a table, the kids are more likely to behave while waiting for food.
We draw, talk, play little games, and generally try to keep the kids entertained. But we also realize that restaurants are boring for kids! Especially if we go with another couple or family and the adults are talking. So I have no problem giving my kids my iPhone when they get bored with everything else. The phones get put away when the food comes so we still practice good eating manners. We spend tons if time talking with, playing with, and spending quality time with our children. I have no qualms with offering technology for entertainment in restaurants.
Awesome ideas, Maggie!
Hi, I am a mother of 4 children of which were all under 6 at one point and yes believe it or not I would take them all to our “favourite” “family” restaurant. To enjoy a meal outside your four walls of home has to be a combination of key factors. Some of which can go drastically wrong like when my 2 boys were spending a little too long in the toilet, resulting in them flooding men’s WC in water. The fun they were having squirting the water from the taps to watch it drip from the ceiling was something I couldn’t for see. Fortunately for us the relationship and friendship we had built up with the staff at the restaurant helped enormously. Visiting the same restaurant whilst I was pregnant with my first child had made us all very good friends with the staff, even the chiefs out back. Whilst we were mortified with what had happened, they just laughed it off whilst it took 2 of them to mop up the water. The key here was the relationship between us and the restaurant staff.
I think a mother and father to be need to ask them selves a couple of question before they embark on taking their new, precious and sometimes unpredictable one out to dinner;
1. Research restaurants whilst pregnant, looking for lovely, friendly staff where the food is good and simple for future little taste buds too.
2. Book a table early for many reasons; the restaurant will be quieter. Kitchen and waiting staff will have time cater for your needs. Dating couples won’t have arrived yet and you can avoid those who have come straight from the pub later on.
3. I believe in “setting a good example” myself for my children to learn how to behave in a restaurant. So to do this you have to take them to a restaurant. Clear rules apply and are met by both adults and children all of which a child will learn without even knowing most of the time. Sitting and Speaking nicely to each other at the table. Listing to the music in the restaurant. Games and toys etc but the key is to be interactive with your children over the table as this esenial for them to learn what they come out to do in a restaurant, other than to eat.
Child are unpredictable and will play up, cry and even vomit over the table. So don’t be alarmed or panic when they do.
4. When the going gets tough or you’ve been told your next course is going to take a WHILE take your little one for a walk outside with either mum or dad. This is great as you can’t either remove your crying child from the restaurant to calm them down as well as giving anyone else in the restaurant a break from the noise. You can calmly talk to your child without the pressure of lookers too.
A change of scenery is a good distraction and can help the boredom if your waiting for food and I’m sure mum or dad wouldn’t mind five or ten minutes of peace. My husband and I would take turns depending on who was the hungriest. Our restaurant staff had also kept one of our dinners warm for us whilst we were doing this.
5. Remember restaurants can get hot too and noisy so a cool quiet still outside is a good I between course idea. But remembering that every returns to their seat back a the table.
My family love eating out and I am confident is saying that all 4 of my children will order their own meals politely and behave appropriately where or what ever time we eat out.
This is all common sense…. do you really need to make a whole post about it?
We make sure to order our little man’s food when we order drinks. That way they bring it out right away, you have time to cut it up and get them started before they get too antsy. Having toys is important, and we don’t put him in his highchair until it’s time to eat. Bringing your own cup, like you mentioned, is a must!
Amanda Drew says
You make a good point that you should only go when your kid is well rested, and it’s well before their bedtime. My husband and I have two little toddlers; they’re a year apart, and we want to go out to eat and get some pizza or pasta. We’ll have to go around 5 because that’s when we usually eat and find a shop that will be open and ready for us around then.
Retha Lockhart says
I used to play restaurant with mine at home. Also I’d tell them ahead of time what was expected. We would pretend to be royalty and vERy rich… And the vEry rich NEVER speaks loud or is rude or (you get the point) also if we went to a buffet, usually Chinese with my mother, I would tell them in China children don’t get out of their chairs or is kid bc it’s against the law there and since it’s their restaurant they get to make the rules. And if we break the rules we have to leave and pay even if we don’t eat.
Now that they are grown, looking back, we didn’t have a lot of issues. Thankfully