Tips for Dining Out with Kids

Tips for dining out with kids

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The plan is to head out for a relaxing dinner with the family where someone else makes the food and cleans up the dishes… Or you’re on vacation and you’re dining out with kids for every meal…

Things at the restaurant have gone well so far. The kids are sort of quiet and everyone decided what to eat without much of a fuss. The waiter brings over your meal and you’re about to dig in.

Then it hits.

You realize it’s close to bedtime and your little one is super cranky, doesn’t want to eat what’s on her plate and screams to go home but you can’t leave without paying the bill…

Does this sound familiar?

I’ve been there and done that with my son. It’s no fun to be that family with the screaming miserable child who you feel is ruining everyone else’s experience (by the way, don’t worry about it – most people have been in a similar situation and completely understand your plight and wish they could help).

To avoid being in that situation, I’ve come up with a few easy strategies to make dining out with kids easier and less stressful for everyone – you and your children.

Choosing the right time to go

When R was a bit smaller this was a big one for our family. If R doesn’t get his sleep he is a mess – unhappy, argumentative and loud!

To avoid this situation, whenever we go out to eat we make sure the timing works with our schedule and R’s schedule. If that means we can’t go out on a particular night or with certain friends because dinner is scheduled for way past R’s bedtime then so be it. I’d rather stay home with a happy child than take him out and have a miserable time.

Of course, we are flexible and if plans are for 6:30 p.m. instead of 6:00 p.m.than we’ll work around it. However, the evenings of going out for dinner at 8:00 p.m. are long gone (unless some kind soul is over at our house watching R).

Choosing the right place to go

When you’re on vacation this can be more difficult but is definitely worth thinking about.

If you’re away from home and not familiar with the area offerings, take a quick look at Trip Advisor under the restaurant tab. You can search specifically for restaurants that are good for “families with children” and see if anything appeals to you. From there, I usually take a look at specific reviews to see if a restaurant is popular with families with little kids. If you see positive comments from families with small children along with photos of the restaurant with kids enjoying their meals then you’ve found a winner.

At home we know the best places to take our son and they are usually casual restaurants with simple menus and friendly atmospheres.

We’ve taken R to some “fancier” restaurants and it usually goes well which leads me to the next tip –

Take a look at the menu before you go

R is a picky eater. I tried my best to get him to like a variety of foods but once he was able to speak up and realized that different options are available, that was the end of it.

Knowing my son, we always look at the menu online (if available) and mention the options available to him ahead of time so he has time to decide what he wants. This strategy also ensures that there’s something he’ll eat wherever we go.


In my opinion, any situation where a little kid has to sit still for any amount of time calls for distractions. I find this to be especially true if you have a very active child. It can be difficult for them to sit still for the duration of the meal.

We usually bring along quieter toys and books – R loves sticker books and DK Publishing has great options ranging from trucks to Disney princesses. My niece enjoys the Melissa and Doug Water Wow activity books which are mess free and easy to carry around.

Go with Friends and/or Family

When we go out to eat at home we tend to go either with our extended family or with friends that have children around the same age as R. It’s a great opportunity for us to catch up with our friends and family plus it gives R the opportunity to hang out with either his cousins or one of his buddies. Usually the kids entertain each other so it’s a win win situation.

Make a reservation (if you can)

Especially when going out with a larger group it’s ideal to make a reservation wherever you go. This will reduce any anxiety associated with getting a table, keeping you on time and dramatically reduce any waiting time which can also drive you nuts when everyone is hungry and impatient.

We keep these tips in mind  whenever we head out to eat and more often than not we enjoy a great family meal

What are your tips for taking kids out to eat?


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35 thoughts on “Tips for Dining Out with Kids”

  1. Great tips, Nicole!
    My kids are now in college, and we are on the other side of this thing. And, I can tell you that sitting next to unhappy children at a restaurant is not pleasant!
    I think your advice is wise, and I hope many parents will read your post.
    I’m sharing it on Twitter and Stumble.
    Came over on 100 Days.

  2. These are great tips as we don’t take Mia out for meals really. When we have, we normally take an ipad with toddler friendly games on (which she loves) and try and make sure that there is a playarea or soft play in the restaurant if possible. We don’t struggle with food as Mia eats anything and failing that loves chips! but we would always check the menu before booking somewhere 🙂


  3. Eating out is so much more stressful with a little one – these tips are great! I also love it if the restaurant itself provides colouring mats and crayons, we even found somewhere a few weeks ago that gave G a sticker book, it made teatime so much easier. xx #KCACOLS

  4. Great tips! Thank you for posting. It can be so difficult to go out with a little one, and your advise is great. The last time we went out for dinner, the timings were fine but our little one was so cranky. I had to rock her until she fell asleep on me, and then she slept on me for the entire duration of dinner. Claire x #KCAKOLS

  5. I agree with other commenters – the little placemat/kids menu and handful of crayons never entertain my toddler for more than 30 seconds! I always try to bring some kind of snack and a water cup at the least.
    My toddler loves the water books you mentioned, what a great idea to stick one in my diaper bag for restaurant use!! 🙂

  6. Hi Nicole I agree with all of your tips and believe that you can enjoy a lovely dinner even with the kids if you plan it right. Thanks for sharing and linking up with us at #OvertheMoon and see you next week!

  7. Great tips and ones we have lived by with our little one. Eating out is only enjoyable if you are all enjoying it. We fit in around his schedule and always go about the time he would normally eat. Lucky for us he eats anything so we are not restricted to where we can go out. Thanks for sharing. #KCACOLS

  8. These are really good tips. We have never checked the menu online. I think this is a great idea. My eldest daughter is a little bit difficult with food but my little one will normally eat anything. However, with the little one we need to be careful with her timings so we tried to go for a meal after her nap so she is happier. We normally try to go to family orientated restaurants where they will have kids menu. These restaurants will normally have pasta, fish fingers with baked beans or with jacket potato, burgers, etc. Bella will eat any of these options. We also bring a mini ipad for each so they are distracted. This always helps. Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS. I would love to see you again on Sunday! 🙂 x

  9. Great tips, thanks! We’ve had some ugly experiences dining out, and we’ve also had some great ones – it’s hard to predict. But this tips will definitely help make every experience a more enjoyable one. My niece loves the water books, too, but I had completely forgotten about them! That is a great idea for a quiet activity that our toddler can do on his own.

  10. Nice tips, but with my 2 little ones our idea of a nice dinner out is packing a picnic and taking it to the playground. The kids like to come grab a bit here and there between playing, and my husband and I get a nice “quiet” dinner.

  11. Excellent tips!! I always bring two little notepads and crayons with me, but your other suggestions are to take into account too.

    Thank you so much for sharing it at Sweet Inspiration party! Hope to see you again next Friday!!

    Enjoy the week!

  12. Great tips. When we eat out with children, it’s always good to have a 15-20 minute activity for them or go to a buffet with no waiting. If I could remember, I think it’s a good idea to have a restaurant busy bag in your car to keep children busy while you wait for food.

  13. I always used to take colouring stuff, books and toys with us, but would rarely get it out. Thankfully N is used to eating out, more places provide activity sheets for kids, but he’s usually quite happy sitting and people watching.

  14. Meals out are often a battle when you have little kids aren’t they! Like you, I’d rather not go than go late, so we like to eat around 5.30, 6.00 at the latest. That does become more of a problem on holiday though – most places in Italy / France / Spain don’t open until much later. On the flip side, they’re also much more tolerant of children than people are in the UK!

    We always take a selection of quiet toys, and always ask for them to bring the kid’s meals out as soon as they’re ready, which helps. Mostly I’m surprised by how good my son is (I tend to expect the worst!), but if all else fails, there’s always a bit of Peppa Pig on the phone (with sound off) for dire situations!

    Thanks so much for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  15. We have always taken our girls out for dinner, to get them used to being in restaurants from a young age. There are times when its hard, but my eldest is now 4 and really well behaved in a restaurant. Holly has her moments, but generally ok. We always get there for 5pm and then its quiet and the girls are fed before they get too tired. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove x

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