Toddler Dinners: Restaurant Tips and Tricks

OK confession time.  We rarely take Landon out to eat.  It’s not that he is a bad kid or that we have been burned by a bad experience…I am just always waiting for the meltdown to begin. It is so much work to socialize, keep him happy and get a decent meal in him.  Sometimes I wonder if I am just delaying the inevitable.  Should I take him more now to train him better for when he is a little older? I dunno.   I wanted to touch on this subject here but I have no advice since I am so timid about it. So I turned to you guys.  I posed the question on Twitter and Facebook to see what people do with taking their kids out to eat. Here is what you had to say:

  • Snacks. This was a common answer.  Take snacks with you to have before the food gets there. This could also be combined with the suggestion of Mexican restaurants(the only place we really take LT) because you get chips while you wait.  My only issue with this one is when they get filled up on said snacks, then everyone is miserable as they whine through your meal and don’t eat the actual food you ordered them.  Delicate balance here.
  • Distractions. Toys, coloring, play a game on the iPhone.  Diane suggested sitting near a window to point out cars and people if possible.  Great idea! We currently take Landon’s “phone” with us and he can watch a movie or play some games. The other night he lasted 1.5 hours at the restaurant with us for Kevin’s mom’s birthday. Great job, little dude.
  • Pick your restaurant wisely. This could be broken down into multiple parts:
    1. Pick a noisy place.  You can mask your child with kitchen sounds, TV and other children.
    2. Pick a place you can get their food early. If they can get their meal earlier, no need for snacks.
    3. Go to the place early.  We always do this because of Landon’s bedtime anyway.  Go early because you will most likely get your food quicker and disturb less people. Also, nothing says “good parenting” like margaritas at 5:15!
    4. Buffet places are great for picking some healthy options and getting food quicker.  Becky suggested Sweet Tomatoes for this very reason. Also some of the hippy grocery stores have healthy buffets and I am told by Dawn that Earth Fare has kids eat free on Thursdays! Kelly also notes that McAlisters has kids eat free Mon-Thur.
  • One tip from the Mann household is the portable high chair.  We keep this in the car and use it in restaurants most of the time.  We put Landon in the booth with us.  That way he isn’t sticking out on the end and potentially hurling food at the floor or other people.  Also keeps his noise level within the booth and not booming from the sidelines. It is also handy to have for visiting people who don’t have high chairs.  Instant high chair.
  • And the most ingenious, though more long term, suggestion goes to Pablo at The Family Wilds. He has worked with his daughter on out-to-eat skills at home including patience and taking turns.  I really admire this approach and think we might try to work on this at home as well.  Patience is a tough thing for Landon and I would be happy to work on this for other aspects as well.

So now it’s your turn.  What tips do you have? Got a funny story about eating out? Examples of what NOT to do? Leave a comment!  We are all learning 🙂

Now onto this week in toddler dinners:

*note the Train ploy can be found in this old post.

Toddler Dinners is my weekly series of posts to explore the world of feeding munchkins. Each Monday I will post our previous week’s meals and a rating on how they went as well as discuss numerous issues we all face. Find out more here. Also be sure to follow me along throughout the week with your creations on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #toddlerdinners.


  1. Hm. You know I have never really thought about taking or not taking kids out to eat. We don’t eat out a lot, but we never hesitate to take them. Amelia loves going to the “raunt-raunt” (restaurant) and honestly – we’ve never had an issue in 11 + years (touch wood!) that we’ve ever had to leave a place. The experience is unique – we don’t go a lot – so it’s special and different and I think they just love it and enjoy it so don’t get crazy! I used to for sure carry snacks, sippy cups, small toys and crayons – but now – nothing. We just go! They’ve been to decently formal places in addition to the super family friendly places. It might also be easier because it’s a “they” – not a “him” – they as a group keep themselves occupied with giggles. 🙂

    • Yeah. I am thinking even more of it is timing. We don’t go out on weeknights because of just juggling too many things. Easier to stay in. Then the weekends we get lazy. I guess I should be happy we are eating at home more for costs and health. Sigh.

  2. We have taken the boys out to eat a lot ever since they were babies. When they were younger, we almost always went to places with FAST service – Chipotle is a great one. And in warm weather, outdoors is great. Our fave was Mellow Mushroom in Durham bc we could sit outdoors around the corner where they could bang and screech and not bother anyone.

    Two awesome stories for you.

    1. We have had the WORST experiences at Cheesecake Factory at Southpoint, even though Cheesecake has a toddler plate they bring out when you bring in kids. The first time we went there, the boys were 10 months old and they sat the boys ACROSS the table from us. No other options. We were spooning food in their mouths across a table while they banged and talked to people walking past. Alex had a helmet and the waiter claimed he had a helmet when he was a baby but it looked like Darth Vader’s helmet. BS.

    2. One time we went to an Italian place when the boys were 15 months old. Nate loved the pasta so much he screamed whenever there was no food in his mouth. We had to pack up and leave with two screaming toddlers and Jon and I ate food in the car.

    Now it’s all winning. Friday night we went to Ginza, sushi for me and hibachi for the boys.

  3. Buffet for teh win! When I take my brood out (five kids, age 9, 6, 5, and 2.5 year old twins), if it’s not McDonald’s then it’s a buffet. CiCi’s Pizza is OK, but we tend to prefer Pizza Hut buffet if given the choice. And the best deal? Young kids eat free at the Hut. The last meal cost me $8 in buffet cost for myself and 3 kids (other two were in school), and $7 in tip.

      • Funny, I get “I don’t know how you do that” a lot. Especially as my wife has been laid up since August 2010 with back surgeries (2 in the last year) and an intractable migraine. Summation: you take it one day at a time. The house isn’t nearly clean enough. The kids don’t pick up nearly enough. The clothes are sometimes on counter tops instead of in drawers.

        But, they’re always fed. They get to school on time. They have far too many toys to know what to do with. The other thing is, it didn’t happen overnight ;). Like temperature changes, and many other things in life, you just tend to get used to flow of insanity.

  4. Thanks for the nice shout out, Brandy. There are a lot of great tips and ideas there. Fortunately, our daughter does well out to eat. We usually go once or twice a week. We to one place close to our house, Calypso Cafe, at least once a week. It’s kid friendly and we’ve been going there since before Nea was pregnant, so they know us and our daughter really well, which helps a lot with the comfort and confidence level. Working on waiting and patience at home helps in so many other areas, too. It takes a little extra time, but it’s so worth it when we need her to stay chill for a short period of time and don’t have a lot of extra stuff with us. Oh, and Thursday’s meal looks pretty awesome.

  5. Honestly we have taken both girls to restaurants since they were babies and we have never once had to leave because of behavior. I’m sure it has a lot to do with Madison’s demeanor (she’s pretty laid back) but we’re so lucky that she’s so good. I used to always keeps snacks and toys but these days she’s fine just coloring while we wait. I’m not opposed to letting her play on my iphone but that would probably be a last resort because then she would start asking for it every time.

  6. Restaurants are hard for us more because of the fact that the food is not very healthy (at least at places where I feel comfortable bringing her). My daugther has a sensitive stomach, and all of the extra salt, fat, and carbs don’t sit well with her. We often wake up to her screaming in the middle of the night after attempting a restaurant meal. Also, I feel stuck because I don’t want to spend $10 on a meal she will pick at, but the food I want to order for myself is too spicy or whatever. We are tabling restaurants for now.

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