Eating at restaurants with young children

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Do you know that when we go out to eat, we almost always bring our three kids?  Yes, we do.  I think it is important to bring them to places and get them used to what is expected in certain establishments, and setting some expectations. 

I’m not saying I expect them to be prim and proper and full of perfect manners- I’m just saying that I do my best to set the “table” for success.  So far, I think it’s working- I’ve had people comment on more than one occasion how well behaved our children were at the table.  Makes me all proud.  (And no, they are NOT always perfect, far from it!!)

I have what we call our “restaurant bag” in the car- in which we have crayon rolls for each of the kids (Caboose Cloth on Etsy made us some custom ones that are super cute- each kid has their own), pads of plain paper (smaller sized, because tables aren’t always large in size, and adding in silverware, dishes, glasses, etc gets crowded fast), some flash card-type sets (these we used my husband’s drill press on and put a binder ring through them- no way to lose them!! 

I have an old eyeglass case that I keep some cereal bars in- the eyeglass case protects them from being squished and if the food takes too long, the kids can nibble.  We also keep a few sets of kid-sized silverware, especially for the Baby!  I almost always have a few of the pouches of applesauce for the kids- just in case- better safe than sorry!!

There are a few special small (quiet) toys we keep in the restaurant bag, as well- sometimes I have stickers in there- anything to keep the kids busy and happy while waiting for the food.  The kids know that this is the bag we use at the restaurant and no other times- so its special, its fun, and it keeps them busy. 

Aside from our restaurant bag, our biggest key to success has been timing.  We normally eat dinner between 5:00 to 5:30 – which means the kids are HUNGRY at 5:00.  Sure, its nice to go to dinner at 7 PM, but not when you are toting a 5, 3 and 1 year old along.  We try to either be seated and ordering at 5:00 ish or we do a pretty substantial snack before we leave to push the time back a bit. 

If the restaurant has a salad bar, or if you get salads with your meal- ask for extra cucumbers (if your kids eat them).  Usually they come in a cute little side dish or container that’s a perfect size for little hands…

We do try to chat with the kids before we arrive about what they may want to eat, and when we order drinks their food orders go in, so that they aren’t waiting, waiting waiting for food and getting very antsy.  This has worked out so well for us because they are slow eaters, so by the time they finish their meals, ours have come and are pretty well done too. 

We usually ask for our bill right when our meals are delivered or when they come to see how our meals are- that way, we’re paid up in case we need to leave in a rush.  Dessert isn’t something we focus on so that’s a non issue for us. 

You CAN go to restaurants with young children and not have them act like maniacs.  You just need to set realistic expectations and plan ahead.  Roll with the punches.  Dining out with kids almost always means a spill- it happens.  It can be cleaned up.  If you can’t do it- leave a bigger tip. 

What are YOUR tips to dining out successfully with small children?[ad#glam between posts][ad#glam between posts][ad#glam between posts]

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About the author: I’m a 30-something mom to three, brand ambassador. content creator, social media maven, blogger extraordinaire, earth lover, butcher, baker, candlestick maker (or something along those lines) – love word games, crafting, cake decorating or shooting pictures.

5 comments… add one

  • Thanks for all the great tips, we go out to eat too much, honestly, but as my son gets older, it’s harder to keep him entertained before the meal. I like the idea of the restaurant bag, I will have to do that. I do keep a bag with toddler friendly disposable silverware with me, as well as bendy straws since he has trouble with a straight straw. Oh, also I LOVE these smocks I found at Ikea! They were only $3.99 for 2 and they have long sleeves and a pocket at the bottom to catch fallen food. They make meal time sooo much neater!

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  • we take our kids to restaurants too and I can’t imagine any other way. Some people act like it’s crazy the places where we take them but they’re well-behaved and know which utensil to use for which course.. I know adults who aren’t as well-versed. Teaching them table manners at a young age is a valuable gift!

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  • Since baby #2 was born we have only went out to eat twice. I believe timing is key and my husband works crazy hours sometimes so it isn’t possible to go out. I order my 2 year old’s food right when we get there when we order drinks. That way he is occupied by eating for most of the time. And then I also bring little toys to keep him busy as well.

    New RSS Reader from Read My Feed! Hope you have a chance to stop by niftymom.com

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  • We started taking our kids out to dinner when they were very young too for the same reasons you are… and when it comes to night’s like last night you see the pay offs… we were supposed to go to one restaurant for a fund raiser but it was packed with a line out the door and it would have been hours so we changed plans and went to another restaurant, no complaints from the kids. We had the worst experience at the “new” restaurant, long wait for food and then the food was bad (overcooked, undercooked, just plain disgusting). No complaints or misbehaviors from the kids. They were such troopers!!

    My tips are be consistent! Yes, you may just want to sit back, relax and let someone else deal with your kids but if you start working with them early it pays off it later years when you suddenly realize you just sat through a meal and didn’t correct your child once and they actually participated in the adult conversation.

    Don’t just threaten you are going to take them out if they misbehave, TAKE THEM OUT IF THEY MISBEHAVE… We’ve only taken our kids out of a restaurant once or twice but we told them ahead of time if they didn’t act appropriately they’d be removed. With our daughter it took once of daddy taking her out while mommy and grandparents remained at the table for her to realize we meant business.

    Many others but this is getting as long as Queen B’s blog post :)

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  • Great post! I totally agree. It was easy when we just had one kid. We’d take turns walking him outside until our food arrived or entertained him with games or activities. With two kids, it was harder. Neither of us got a break so when it got so draining to entertain two kids we stopped going out for a while.

    Now that my boys are 4 and 6 years old, it’s much easier. We tend to stick with kid friendly restaurants that can serve a meal in 20 min or less, but they do a much better job at entertaining themselves.

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