Eating Out with Kids: Planning Ahead for Success

Eating out with kids at kid-friendly restaurants is a great family activity, especially during the winter months. Now, you might think I’m nuts to even attempt to dine out with five kids and you’re right that it can be very stressful, so we’re doing a series this month on how to eat out with kids successfully.

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I’ve learned that planning ahead makes a huge difference and an overall positive family dining experience.  Here are my tips!

Go on the right day and at the right time. That means NOT Saturday night dinner when other grown-ups are out on dates! Lunch is always a great option and is generally more casual or you could try an early weeknight dinner. I’ve even been known to show up at restaurants at 4 or 4:30 p.m. and yes, my kids were in their pajamas ready to be dumped in bed upon arrival at home!  It’s important to feed kids at their normal times OR EARLIER otherwise they’ll get hungry, which usually means CRANKY!

Go to the right kind of family-friendly restaurant. You’ll be much less stressed if there is a casual, entertaining atmosphere and other families around and the staff is used to having kids there and be accommodating to you with things like high-chairs. Plus, you’ll get the proper sized portion if you order of a kids’ menu…and you’re more likely to find something your kids will actually eat.

Explain to your little ones beforehand about behavior expectations and table manners you’d like to see. Keep it simple and focus on what’s important to you, whether that be not eating with your hands or not fighting or simply not stealing someone else’s fries.  Then, when you get there, let all the small things go and enjoy yourself.

Dress for success. This is a big one in our family: we don’t wear our Sunday best or new clothes out to eat since spills and stains are inevitable!  I once had an entire table covered with milk-shakes — it was spilling off all four sides onto the kids and the floor. And for toddlers it’s a good idea to bring along a bib.

How do you get your kids out of the house and ready to eat at your local restaurants? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

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Thanks for stopping by and make sure to check back for more! xo

  • nichol perez

    Occupy kids with crayons and the kids menu if available. A lot of restaurants offer this and also let them snack on bread sticks or snacks till food get there. aLSO ONE BATHROOM RUN BEFORE FOOD ARRIVES, i ALSO LET MY KIDS LOOK AT DESSERT MENU AND FIND ITEMS THEY LIKE.MY KIDS KNOW THEY ARE THERE TO EAT AND HAVE AN INDOOR VOICE.

  • Sharon Vanek

    Take my iPhone or Tablet and let them play or watch a movie. This is what kids these days love to do.

  • Amanda Carney

    We usually have no issues with our toddler eating out…. unless we go with her aunt and unle. her uncle tries to make her be bad and do things she knows shes not supposed to. she even looks at her dad before she does anything, looking for that dont do it look, because of course shes confused when an adult shes supposed to listen to is doing bad stuff. like put crayons in her chocolate milk, or bite crayons, or drum with silverware… ugh! so the only thing we’ve had to learn, is set them at opposite sides of the table. but for not so great toddlers when it comes to dining out, crayons or a small toy should help them stay occupied! (:

  • cewaye

    Be sure to have some type of snack of your own to keep your child occupied while they wait for food. Littler kids don’t seem to understand why they can’t eat RIGHT NOW ;). Bring something to occupy them; books, small toys, etc. Bring your own small silverware and lidded cup if you are going somewhere that won’t have them. A little advance planning helps prevent misbehavior.

  • emma

    We have a 6 month old so we usually go early and have enough toys to keep her entertained. We let her out to play before the food comes out then put her back in the seat when the food comes out.

  • Kristin

    I ask my three year old to select what he wants to eat so that he’s part of the process. But then, we order it as soon as possible. Best case is that he can start eating while we wait for our food. Since he takes longer to eat than the adults, we usually finish at the same time. But I don’t spend my time cutting his food or making sure it’s cool enough to eat when my meal arrives because it’s already done. Worst case, his food cools to a good temp by the time the adult meals arrive and he stays occupied by a Leapster Explorer or iPad. Either way, ordering ahead so that he has food and drink first has made going out to eat a breeze.

    • Great tip Kristin! Thanks for commenting and congrats on winning this giveaway! We will be in touch about your prize.

  • kathy dickens

    When we eat out , we try to go to kid friendly restaurants ( I don’t mean we always go to Chuck E Cheese lol)
    However, with my eldest son we do reward his behavior and we will take turns on restaurant choices.
    My advice on eating out, is eat before the crowd gets there. Whenever, we eat with family we try to eat after nap time NOT during. That will just make for a cranky baby. We have cut nap time short and that ususally works out. Also, we take snacks in case their is a wait and of course we take crayons and paper and coloring books. On other tip is, when the waiter comes I go ahead and put the kids order in right away and have them bring it out first. My kids eat slow and this way they don’t have to wait long either. We also go during the week not weekends and Ioved the comment about pj’s, We have taken the kids to eat out in their pj’s many times (they usually fall asleep on the way home)

  • Great advice everyone! Thanks so much for commenting…I hope you are all inspired to eat out with the family more often.

  • Melissa

    Thanks for the tips. I’d love to hear about your experiences taking out an almost one year old. We used to take our baby out all the time because she slept right through our dining experience, but now that she is alert and wants to play, we have a hard time confining her to a high chair.

    • Melissa, this is just not an easy age! Try to go early and make sure she has a snack beforehand — I might even feed her and look at anything else she eats as extra so that you guys can enjoy your meal without stressing as to whether or not she is eating! Once you’re out of the newborn phase, I don’t think this gets easier again until 3-4 years old!! Sorry!