tips for dining out with kids

GIVEAWAY: $1000 Target Gift Card + Go & Gro Mix-ins

Yesterday, I posted “12 Problems Dining Out with Kids” on the Mommy Shorts Facebook page and asked parents who felt like they had mastered the art of family dining (no, not the kind where they put a large plate of pasta on your table for everyone to share) to comment with their best tips and tricks.

I culled through all the responses and put together a master list, which includes some tips of my own. Some are obvious, some are more inspired. Some I practice regularly and some I clearly need to try.

28 tips & tricks for dining out with kids

1) Practice playing restaurant at home. Tell your kids what kind of behavior is expected when you eat out, like proper table manners and staying seated.

2) Always check menus online first to make sure they serve food your kids will want to eat. There is nothing worse than sitting down at a table and discovering there is no chicken fingers available.

3) Keep a mini tackle box or special bag on hand with crayons, small toys or dollar store items that your kid is only allowed to play with in a restaurant. This way he is excited to pull them out. You can even switch them up and surprise him with something new.

4) Eat out early in the evening when there are less people and more families who are sympathetic to your strife. Or, they’ve got their own kids to deal with and couldn’t be bothered paying attention to yours.


5) Opt for large busy restaurants where the noise decibel level is higher and more likely to drown out your rowdy kids.

6) Go to a buffet if possible. Kids think it’s exciting to pick their own food. You can even sneak some new foods for them to try without wasting your money on an entire entree they probably won’t eat.

7) Get a booth if it’s an available. This way your kid can move around more without disturbing other people. You can also put them on the inside and trap them in their seat.

8) Buy triangle crayons— they don’t roll off the table!

9) Make sure each child has the EXACT SAME SET of crayons; you don’t want one kid sobbing because his brother is the sole owner of the only purple crayon.

10) Use the stuff on the table to create games, like sorting sugar packets by color or jelly packets by size. We also play a game where everybody closes their eyes except one person who takes an item off the table and hides it in their lap. First person to guess the missing item wins.

11) When kids get older, games like tic tac toe, hangman and dots can be wonderfully distracting while waiting for a meal to be served.

12) I always carry a pair of dice for impromptu restaurant games. You can make up a game while you are waiting for you food and they can be used as an eating game to get your kid to take more bites.

13) Bring your own cups until your kids are responsible with the covered cups at the restaurant. Or they make universal sippy cup lids that can stretch over any standard cup or glass.

14) Bring your own portable placemat. For babies and toddlers, they make silicone mats that have an edge to keep food in place plus a lip to catch the food that falls. For older kids, reusable coloring placemats can be a lot more fun than whatever is supplied at the restaurant.

7 products for dining out with kids

15) Often bad behavior in a restaurant is a result of the very challenging hunger/impatience combination. Pack a few healthy snacks so your kid has something to munch on before the food arrives.

16) Treat dinner out like a ticking time bomb. Ask for the bread and water as soon as you are seated and ask for the check as soon as the food comes. Then eat fast and get out!

17) Always ask servers if there are any ingredients in the dishes that aren’t listed on the menu. I can’t tell you how many times I have been burned by parmesan cheese.

18) Ask for your kids’ meals to be served as soon as they are ready. In addition to staving off a hunger tantrum, you can cut their food before yours has even arrived and then eat your meal hot.

19) If their food arrives early enough and they finish before you start, that’s a perfect time to buy them dessert. Nothing is better than eating your entree in peace while your kid is consumed with his ice cream.

20) I’ve also been known on occasion to feed my kids at home and then take them out to a restaurant afterwards. Mike and I order entrees and order desserts for the kids to eat at the same time.

21) Ask for an extra plate to cool hot food on— a few strands of spaghetti will always cool faster than a whole plate!


22) If your kid is refusing to eat the protein and the vegetables and sticking purely to bread and rice, use Go & Grow Mix-ins to supplement the nutrients missing from their meal.

23) Never force vegetables at a restaurant. That’s a battle you should save for home when nobody can hear the screaming.

24) For the love of god, if your child acts up, take them outside! Better yet, be willing to pay and walk out even if it means taking the entire meal to go. Making your kids get up and leave in the middle of the meal for bad behavior is a great lesson that will likely be remembered.

25) Arrange with your spouse ahead of time to split responsibilities. If your spouse eats leisurely while you tend to the kids during the meal, then it is his/her job to take the kids outside or for a walk so you can eat in peace after they are done.

26) Don’t worry about what strangers think. Unless they are being actively attacked by your kid with a fork.

27) Always leave a healthy tip for the server. The bigger the mess on the floor, the bigger the tip. It’s the right thing to do plus, they won’t be so annoyed the next time a family walks in the door. 

28) The biggest family dining trick of all? Don’t bring the kids!

Hope this helps everyone including me!

GIVEAWAY: $1000 Target Gift Card Plus Go & Grow Mix-ins

go and grow giveaway

Today, I am giving away one $1000 Target gift card plus a supply of Go & Grow Mix-ins from Similac!

Go & Grow is a powder that comes in small to-go packets that are perfect for dining out with kids. They can be stirred into foods like rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, applesauce and pancake batter to give an extra boost of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and DHA without your kids noticing a difference. They are GMO and gluten-free.

Check out for free samples (while supplies last), store locators and more information about how Mix-Ins help your child maintain balanced nutrition.

To enter:

1) You must be a Mommy Shorts subscriber. If you are not one already, you can become one by clicking here.

2) Leave a comment below telling me a tip, trick or funny story about dining out with your kids. It could be a success or a failure. For instance, here’s an awesome story posted by a mom named Jen on Facebook:

We were running late from an outing and needed to stop to eat. My kids begged to go to Olive Garden but I was reluctant because they hadn’t been so well-behaved the last time we were there. We had a conversation about what constitutes good behavior; sitting still, being quiet, etc. and I told them we could only go in if they promised to behave. They promised. The hostess saw us (one mommy and three little kids) and tucked us into a corner table. The table across from us had 6-8 thirty-somethings who were drinking and kind of loud. We were there less than 10 minutes when my 5 year-old looked over and shouted, “EXCUSE ME? COULD YOU BE QUIET PLEASE? WE’RE IN A REST-AU-RANT.”

Winner will be selected at random and announced on June 22nd.

Good luck!

winner update:

Congrats to Arielle, who’s daughter is still holding a grudge about the time she cut her bagel in half. Please contact to claim your prize!


This post was sponsored by Go & Grow Mix-ins from Similac, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.