10 Tips for Eating Out with Small Children {and Enjoying the Meal!}

By Guest Writer Lisa:

Do you enjoy taking your small children out to eat?

The process can be stressful and sanity-vexing. But going out to eat with our kids is something that we all do, even if the frequency does vary from family to family.

I can honestly say that we enjoy eating out with our kids. There are exceptions when I question my sanity and have to pray for patience. But on the whole, going out to eat is fun for us all.

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Below are ten things that we do to help make eating out together fun.  The tips are part day to day habit building, part common sense, and part quick tips you can use today. I hope they encourage you and give you a new idea to make meal times out of the home less stressful and more enjoyable!

BEFORE you even get to a restaurant or friend’s home…

1. Enjoying meals together should start at home.

Regularly sitting down together to eat meals together at home is often cited as one of the most important things a family can do together. For the purposes of this post, it also gives lots of opportunity to establish good habits that carry out to when you are out of the house.

2. Table manners start at home too.

Expectations for manners and mealtime routines should start at home and carry over to occasions when you are out together. Helping your kids learn table manners at home will reduce the shock of expecting them when you are out.

Three examples of simple table manners to start with are (1) staying at the table while everyone is eating, (2) using an appropriate voice level at the table, and (3) being gracious and eating the food you are served.

3. Teach toddlers to eat off a plate or tray and drink from a straw.

This is simply a matter of convenience, but I find it so helpful. We have taught all three of our kids to eat from a plate (without picking up the plate and playing with it or dumping it!) from an early age. Having them learn this skill saves a lot of fuss over the cleanliness of a table, cleaning plastic mats, or stocking disposable mats. It also means not having to clean a high chair tray three or more times a day for years. (Call me lazy but this is a big incentive for me! I would much rather put a plate in the dishwasher).

We also like to try and keep our toddler’s cup with us, but there are plenty of times when we have forgotten it and we have been thankful that she can drink from a straw. It’s just nice.

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JUST BEFORE a meal out…

4.  Wear clothing that can double as a napkin.

It always happens. Kids reach for you with little hands smeared with pasta sauce or sticky fruit or who knows what. They decide they must hug you in the middle of a meal when what they are eating is displayed all over their sweet little faces.

All I’m saying is don’t wear your fanciest attire and then spend the entire meal trying to squirm and avoid all contact. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt (stains).

5. Hungry equals grumpy.

This is true for me and it is especially true for small children. So it’s a good idea to pregame a meal with a small snack just to take the edge off of your children’s hunger pains.

And if you are going to a restaurant where the wait for food is on the longer side, it’s also a good idea to bring a healthy snack for your kids that can serve as an appetizer while they wait.

6. Take your kids to the bathroom before you sit down to eat.

Inevitably, one or more of your children will decide that they need to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW just as you are ready to take your first bite.

This is especially true at places like Costco— when you get condiments for the hotdogs, drag a high chair to the table, distribute everyone’s food, and finally sit down… only to have to load everyone back into the cart and push the cart into the bathroom so your toddler can avoid wetting his pants and you can avoid having to ask customer service to please clean up his urine (again). Ahem.


7. Bring something to occupy their attention. And then bring a back-up.

Keep something small in your purse or the car that your children can look at when you are out. Something that doesn’t make a lot of noise, that doesn’t take up a lot of space on the table, and that can be quickly put away.

I keep a few small books in the car and a small bag of animal models in my purse. They have come in handy SO many times, and not just in restaurants. Reserve them for playing with only when you are out.

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8. Use pacifier leashes or plastic rings keep toys off the floor.

Loop a leash or several rings from your baby’s toy to the high chair. You are spared from reaching down to pick up the toy every thirty seconds and your baby is spared all the floor funk from meeting her mouth.

9. Be consistent with reward/consequence.

If you are going to offer a dessert or visit to somewhere special as a reward for good behavior during a meal, (or losing it as a consequence), be consistent with giving or withholding it.

There are times when it is simply easier to pacify children with a treat even if they have forfeited it, but doing so doesn’t help them or you in the long run.

Give rewards as merited and consequences as deserved and you will help your children to learn from their behavior and to learn to trust your word.

10. Think outside the kids’ menu.

Grilled cheese, chicken fingers, or hamburger– all with french fries. With slight variation, these are the standard option on every kids menu everywhere.

Honestly, I really don’t want to pigeonhole my children into eating only golden colored foods. They don’t typically eat monochromatic dinners at home, and I want to have the option to serve them more than breaded, cheesy, fried foods when we are out.

Fortunately, it is almost always also much more cost effective to buy one adult meal for my children to split than it is to buy three separate kids’ meals. They get many more choices and the serving size is enough to for them to share.


What tips would you add to this list?

Lisa is married to her best friend and has three inquisitive and energetic kids. She loves crafty things like sewing and painting and actually enjoys cooking with her kids, and making crackers and pasta from scratch. In the busy fullness of life with young children, Lisa strives to live faithfully, remembering the hope of the gospel in all the everyday things. She blogs about a “pilgrim life,” living in grace now and waiting for a more permanent, eternal home at thispilgrimlife.com.


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  1. We have a child that EVERY time we sat down to eat she would have to go to the bathroom (an stay a long time). It was not until YEARS (probably about 10 years) later that we learned she is highly allergic to gluten and every time she ate she would have a tummy ache. I feel so bad looking back on those days and I don’t remember punishing her for it but I do remember making remarks about always having to go after we started eating. Glad the problem has been resolved.

  2. I appreciate your tips for taking kids out to eat. My wife and I love eating out, but with kids, it almost never happens. Next time we go out, I’ll try taking a snack with me, so my kids aren’t too hungry at the restaurant.