Survival Guide: Dining Out With A Toddler

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Eating out is supposed to be a fun experience for everyone at the table. When going out for a meal with a toddler, it can quickly become a threat to our sanity. To make Dining out with a toddler easier- read on!

We attempt to heavily regulate our use of screens for our little one and ourselves… this means we don’t hand her our phones while we wait for our food. Coming up with ways to practice our table manners and keep her occupied and happy during a trip to a restaurant has been a huge learning experience for us.

Dinning out with a young child can be a challenge. We’ve all seen it before… the tot running a muck around the restaurant or making obscene amounts of noise to the dismay of others sitting near them. You probably swore to yourself before you had kids, “that’ll never be me!” Now that you’re in that mama’s shoes with a little one you want to set you and your little one up for success so you can enjoy a meal together outside of the home.

Read on to find out our top 13 tips and tricks that make dinning our with your toddler an enjoyable experience for everyone!

Toys to help you survive the wait

I’m telling you the most obvious hack first. If you’re not already traveling around with a bag full of loot for your toddler to help entertain them…. then here you go! We strive to heavily limit our little one’s screen time, which means she doesn’t get to view screens when we are out at a restaurant either. Keeping her entertained via different avenues is our biggest strategy for keeping her happy at the table while we wait for our food.

Not all toys are created equal when it comes to what will work best in a restaurant. Below are our top 3 favorites that have made the waiting quiet and peaceful.

Tegu Blocks

These Tegu blocks are seriously the coolest blocks we have found so far. This small pack of eight may seem unassuming, but I promise it is mighty! These are magnetic wooden blocks and align in different ways to be stacked and built. Not just some basic wooden blocks here! The magnets give these toys such a fun twist and help keep Princess L entertained a lot longer than other toys we have tried. Open-ended toys are fantastic at keeping toddlers entertained longer than other toys. (Plus they don’t make noise, which is pretty nice for restaurant dining!) These are so easy to keep clean since they can just be quickly wiped down before being stowed away in their handy pouch- a must for any toy you plan on carrying into a restaurant.

Imagine ink magic pictures

The Imagine Ink Magic Pictures Coloring Activities are so nice to pack for a restaurant trip because they are mess-free! The marker only works on the paper in the activity book! What is it about toddlers and markers? Princess L loves coloring with markers… but it can get messy fast! These entertain her so well and help to keep her content until the food arrives. These also work really well for car rides as well, if you were looking for any car ride hacks to help for peaceful trips.

pouch puzzle

Princess L loves doing puzzles, but still needs help from time to time completing them. Another quiet, calming activity- this Mudpuppy World of Eric Carle puzzle set is so much fun! I love that it comes in a zip pouch, making storing and keeping up with the pieces very easy. We love talking about the animals and the different colors in the pictures. Plus we get to practice counting our numbers as we count each puzzle piece to make sure its made it safely back inside the pouch.

the highchair hack while dining out with a toddler

However, once you get to the highchair its not uncommon to find that it is pretty sticky, gross, and may have some of the last kid’s food still sitting in it. Ick! You do your best to wipe it down, but the sticky residue still remains… It is time to bust out a high chair cover! This one is great and also doubles as a shopping cart cover as well!

Using a cover over the high chair helps your sanity when you’re worried about germs and grime that comes with using a communal high chair. I love that this is easy to throw into the washing machine when we get home too!

ask for more accommodating seating

Since we have started dinning out with our toddler, I have found that sitting at a booth makes life so much easier. If this is an option while we are out, I always request one instead of a traditional table with chairs. The booth allows Princess L to have some more room to wiggle around in before we move to the high chair.

We have alternated between trying the booster seats and the high chairs. So far, we have found letting Princess L wiggle a bit in our laps until the food gets to the table, and then placing her into the high chair works the best. Boost seats for us just don’t work out. They tip over too easily and don’t allow us to get her close enough to the table to keep her from dropping a ton of food on her lap.

Another tip is to ask for a window seat if you see it is available!

hacks for feeding your toddler

Once the food arrives everyone gets excited and is ready to dig in. Restaurants are notorious for serving enormous portions and that means lots of opportunities for your little one to make a mess with their food.

At home, I don’t worry as much about Princess L playing with her food, but when we dine out I want to be respectful to the wait staff as much as possible. To help keep down on our mess, I have discovered that offering small amounts of food, and doling it out over a period of time really helps cut down on the mess.

If you are sharing an entree with your little one, ask for an extra plate for them. This also helps cut down on the dinner table chaos.

bring A sippy cup when dining out with a toddler

I like to try and carry a sippy cup for Princess L any time we leave the house, but especially when we go out to eat. With so many places foregoing on giving out straws and other places using heavy glasses- it makes it tough on a toddler to drink without asking for some help.

Help your little one out by bringing along a cup just for them.

pack your utensils

Some restaurants offer really heavy eating utensils or they aren’t as tot friendly as the ones you have at home. Try packing a set to keep in your diaper bag for when this happens.

Our favorites are these ones by Zak. I was actually discussing with some friends about how Princess L seemed to be really struggling with getting the hang of silverware. I had previously been using some plastic toddler utensils and a friend said I should try using some that had a metal end and plastic handle- to make it easier for little hands. She was so right! I think the metal tip on the fork makes picking up food easier, and the spoon can actually hold some liquid in it. These are awesome!

the Disposable Placemat Hack

These disposable placemats are seriously a game-changer. If you’re like me, you probably worry about the mess you leave behind on the table. These make clean up a breeze!

They stick down really well since they have adhesive tape on all four sides. When you’re ready to peel it off, it comes off without leaving any sticky residue behind. I love that I feel like this helps create a more sanitary space for my tot to eat at as well. They are sized well too- large enough to give our little one a bit of room to spread her food out on.

The colorful pictures include some cool graphics that also give us something to discuss while we wait for our food to arrive. We love counting the different animals or talking about the letters we see on the mat.

banish germs

I’ve brought up a couple of times about dealing with grime and trying to create a sanitary place while dining out with a toddler. But my favorite way is to break out a sanitizing wipe!

I like to try and remember to keep these in my diaper bag all the time, because you never know when you may want to use one (like after pumping gas!) Giving the table and high chair a wipe down as soon as we are seated helps me feel better about doing my part to help create a clean space for my little one.

the restAurant bag

When eating out, it can feel like you need to bring extra things with you that you don’t typically carry on a typical day. Creating a quick “restaurant bag” to keep in your car can help keep clutter out of your regular diaper bag, but also help you feel prepared for when you do decide to eat out at a restaurant.

I like to keep a zip lock bag in the car with a couple of the toys mentioned earlier, and a couple of the disposable mats. I also put this book- Foods with Moods in our restaurant bag.

We especially love this book during our restaurant adventures because it has to deal with one of our favorite topics- food! I mentioned this book, Foods With Moods, in my Top 100 Books For Toddlers post. This is a seriously fun book for toddlers and helps to teach about lots of different emotions.

Try keeping all the items in a single storage bag, like a zip lock, and you’re set to go on what you need to carry inside the restaurant with you.

Mind your manners!

Dining out with a toddler can be a challenge, but they definitely feed off of our energy. Eating out is a great time to model our best table manners and etiquite! I read in one place that we should encourage our little ones to pretend that they are adults eating at a fancy restuarnt when we want them to mind their table manners. This tip may work great for older toddlers or young kids.

For younger toddlers still learning their manners, eating out at a restaurant is a perfect time to model the behavior you’re wishing to see from your child as well. Stow away the phone and engage with everyone at the table yourself as well. Make your toddler feel just as much a part of the experience as well. How often are we guilty of doing the very things we are trying hard to get our toddlers not to do themselves.

set yourself up for success

Making sure you’re giving yourself every opportunity to enjoy your meals is a no brainer move. Try not to wait to go until everyone is completely starving. You’re not yourself when you’re hungry- right? If you realize the timing is off, try offering a really small snack leading up to the event to try and keep everyone from feeling hangry.

As I’m sure you already know… Try to keep nap time in mind and try not to take your little one out to a restaurant when they are likely to be irritable and cranky.

get the wiggle worm out before you are seated

My last hack I can offer on taking your toddler out to eat at a restaurant is to do your best to get the “wiggle worm” out before you are seated. We do our best to make this happen by parking towards the back of the parking lot to have a longer walk before getting inside. If you have time, try walking a little bit before entering the restaurant (if its safe and you’re at a place where this would be reasonable to do so outside). Getting some energy out before having to sit down for a long time can help set your little one up for more success!

I hope some of these tips and tricks are helpful for you on your next adventure on dinning out! Please share with me some hacks you’ve found to help eat out at a restaurant with a toddler!

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