Eating out with kids can be an ordeal. You just want an enjoyable meal but often feel rushed and busy cutting food, entertaining the kids and wiping up messy faces (all while trying to eat a hot meal yourself!) What if you have a picky eater and have to pack food that they’ll actually eat? Then there’s the potential for mess. A BIG mess. Is it better just to eat at home? I like to eat out, especially when traveling, but sometimes I dread it with all the kids! Here are my travel dining hacks for kids, including products that can make eating out with kids easier!
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How to Take Young Kids to a Restaurant – Travel Dining Hacks for Kids
To be fully honest, when we’re at home we don’t really eat out in restaurants very often. Restaurant dining with kids is reserved for times when we’re traveling and far from our kitchen. Being able to enjoy a special meal out is something we don’t do often, but absoutely plan for when we travel. Since we have a toddler, kindergartener and two teens, I have a bag of tricks to keep them entertained and happy until the food arrives! (Hint: This doesn’t have to include electronic devices, keep reading!) I’ve included my travel dining hacks for kids with lots of tips on eating out as well as the must have travel items for babies, big kids and toddlers when restaurant dining is in your plans.
Choosing the Best Restaurants for Kids
Sure, you can take your kid to just about any restaurant you want, but do you really want to? I know I don’t want to eat in a fancy place with my noisy toddler and feel like I’m needing to shush her every 2 seconds when she uses her “outside” voice indoors! Personally when I’m eating in a restaurant with my kids I choose a place that might be just a bit more noisy and more on the casual side.
Before you step inside, check out the ambiance and weigh whether you think it’s a good place for your kiddos. Second, peek at the menu. If there’s something there that your kids will eat, then proceed! If you have a picky eater in the family, see my post with practical dining tips for at home or on the road.
What to Order Kids in a Restaurant?
When we go out to eat (which isn’t very often), we usually encourage the kids to order something they don’t usually eat at home. Why get buttered spaghetti noodles when you can order steak and baked potato with all the fixings?!
My middle son always orders chicken nuggets and fries because we simply don’t feed him that at home. For him, that’s his special restaurant meal. I’m not going to spend dinner out arguing with him to try something new, especially if I may get push back. Restaurant dining isn’t the time to pressure your kids. And if nuggets and fries is something he’ll eat (and usually finish!) then that’s what I let him order!
1. Table Covers Keep Food From Touching Dirty Tables
If you’ve been eating out with kids before, you know that the food doesn’t always stay on the plate. In fact, if given a plate of food my two-year old will immediately dump all the contents directly onto the table! Instead of giving your toddler an entire plate to herself, dole out a few pieces here and there to minimize mess. I use disposable table covers so I know her food stays away from germs.
- BPA Free and Eco-Friendly – Stick On Table Topper Placemat for Kids Stick-On Place Mats
- Disposable Placemats – Children’s ABC Table Topper
- Disposable Placemats Table Topper -Outer Space Theme
2. Portable High Chair for Babies and Toddlers
Dirty restaurant highchair? Skip toting around the bulky cover and consider the Totseat Chair Harness. Quickly convert a regular chair into a secure seat for babies on the go.
3. Drink Up! Kid’s Travel Cups That Are Easy to Clean
My baby daughter used to make the biggest mess when she tried to drink out of a cup. She never grasped how to drink out of a bottle and drinking from a sippy cup had been equally challenging. Fortunately she learned how to drink out of a straw very early on. But that still didn’t minimize the mess (she tended to let whatever she doesn’t swallow dribble down her chin!)
When we went on vacation, I brought along a set of Silikids Siliskin Silicone Sippy Tops. These silicone tops stretch over your own cup, turning it into a child-friendly sipper. While in the hotel room, I was able to convert a small drinking glass into a sippy cup for milk. And when taking her in the stroller, I placed a Siliskin Sippy Top onto a plastic cup filled with water.
The Siliskin Sippy Top has tiny holes that do not leak out liquid. The child has to gently bite on the top and suck to drink. This made it much less of a mess because my daughter only took in what she was swallowing. I really liked having these on-the-go to convert any cup into a sipper. They are dishwasher and microwave safe, though I just washed by hand in the hotel bathroom sink.
I also have the Silikids Siliskin Silicone Straw Cup. I’ve always been hesitant to purchase sippy cups with straws because of the cleaning aspect (tiny parts are challenging to get totally clean, even in the dishwasher).
This cup is only three simple parts and all can be boiled in water to sanitize. The straw is really quite big for my toddler daughter to use but my preschooler drinks from it perfectly (and I don’t have to worry about spills in the car).
4. Entertaining Ideas for Baby
I’ve taken my baby on a few trips by myself, including traveling alone to Walt Disney World. If you don’t have extra hands, make sure to pack a few things that will make your dining experience more enjoyable. A few toys for entertaining baby and a clever strap that keeps the bottle or sippy cup from falling to the floor.
If your baby is in the loud screaming-at-the-top-of-their-lungs phase request a seat on the patio where the extra noise may be better absorbed. If Disney is your destination, check out this post with additional tips for dining with a baby.
5. Keep ‘Em Clean with Disposable Bibs
Other than taking extra clothes with you (always a good idea anyway, I guess), a bib is the best way to keep clothes clean when eating out with kids. A disposable bib is even better! Pop it on, fold in the bottom to catch any food that falls and then toss it when done with the meal. So much better than toting around crusty clothes!
- Summer Infant Keep Me Clean Disposable Bibs Travel Pack
- Bibsters Large Disposable Bibs
- Munchkin Disposable Bibs
6. Best Travel Snack Ideas for Kids
Despite your best efforts for choosing kid-friendly restaurants, some kids just won’t eat. Consider packing in a few of their favorite snacks that you know they’ll eat. I like the b. box Snack Pack. There are two separate compartments. And it comes with a child-sized utensil that snaps in to the lid!
In between meals or while on the road, try the Munchkin Snack Catcher. I use it in the car with my toddler and big kids! You can fill it up with an age-appropriate snack (fishy crackers for little ones, trail mix for older kids). This really helps to minimize spills and mess in the car when they drop it (because you know they will!)
7. Kid’s Restaurant Busy Bag (Aka: The Device-Free Dinner)
We went to a restaurant a few years ago and before my kids were even in their seats they were each handed an electronic tablet to play games. We weren’t even asked by the waitress if it was okay. Our kids don’t use devices at home so naturally it was a special occasion. Was the wait for the meal really quiet? Yep. They had their noses pressed against the screens the entire time, silently playing their individual games.
There are times that having the devices come in handy during travel (like on a boring road trip). But for me personally, I’m not a fan of having electronics at the dinner table. We let our kids play with them at this particular restaurant for about ten minutes before removing them and asking the waitress to take them away. My husband and I enjoy chatting with our kids together and while it was certainly quiet, it didn’t connect us as a family to have the kids playing games alone. However do what you have to do – if the kids are bickering and all you want is 10 quiet minutes, then maybe letting the kids use a device is what you need to do.
Waiting for food to arrive can make young diners impatient. Some restaurants will offer paper and crayons but not all. Consider having a restaurant “busy bag” to occupy kids. The contents inside the bag can be items that the entire family would enjoy. Supply a grab-bag of goodies to keep kids entertained while you wait. Here are a few mess-free ideas for different age ranges, from babies to big kids! Grown ups, set your phones down and pick up one of these family favorites.
- Crayola Color Wonder Disney Preschool Coloring Pad
- Wikki Stix Art and Craft
- Super Silly Mad Libs Junior