taming your toddler: tips and tricks for a successful dining experience

Once upon a time, in a far away life long ago (before four kids), we used to go out to eat on a regular basis. It was relaxing and enjoyable. We would have a conversation and a couple cocktails. We could eat without being interrupted by food flying across the table or little hands reaching for everything across the table. We never got strange stares from our fellow diners because of a toddler trying to drink milk from a straw through his nose.


Those relaxing days are long gone when the kids go out to eat with us, but that’s ok. Going out to eat can still be a fun and enjoyable experience and here are the tips and tricks that have worked for me.

Patience: Mentally Prepare Yourself

  • I mentally prepare myself before we even load the little monkeys in the car. I remind myself that the meal will not go as it is rehearsed in my head.  They will not have perfect table manners (they never do at home, so why would it spontaneously occur at a restaurant?)
  • My children aren’t perfect, they are two and three years old, and there will more than likely be a few mishaps. Plan for it and remember that it’s not that big of deal. Relax and remember to laugh. If a few crayons go flying across the table, it’s really not that big of deal…and take a sigh of relief it wasn’t a fork or butter knife.

Preparation and Planning:

  • Pick a restaurant that is  family oriented and kid friendly. I personally like to pick the ones where kids eat free or relatively cheap because they will be expecting families and the service is usually pretty fast. (Plus, we have four kids to feed, so this helps out a lot.)
  • Here’s a link of QC restaurants where kids can eat for free.
  • Choose an off time to go where it wont be very busy, which also means there probably wont be as long of a wait.
  • Pack some new and interesting activities. I keep small toys and fun little games in my purse that they don’t get to play with except for when I really need the distraction, like waiting.
  • Pack food (used only in emergency situations/last resort/offering for peace). I know it sounds ridiculous to pack food before you go out to eat, but a bag of Cheerios can go a long way when you are trying to tame a restless toddler. It’s like a bribe, but I also like to think of it as a peace-offering.

***And the most important rule of all (just about as important as not feeding a gremlin after midnight) is***

Don’t give them everything at once! Use your resources wisely. If they are seated and content, leave them alone! Make little to no eye contact. Enjoy the minute of peace and sip your Pepsi before all chaos breaks loose.

When they start banging on the table demanding food or attention, toss them a game or small toy. Repeat process until all toys and books are exhausted.

Include them in on the conversation; even if you have to change the topic of conversation. “What do you think the Bubble Guppies would like to eat if they were here?” This usually works for a short period of time.

If the food still hasn’t arrived and the toddlers are on the verge of tyranny, toss them a Cheerio. Notice I said “A Cheerio.” One at a time, maybe two. Slowly dole them out, this will buy you more time. Pace yourself. Make it last, this is your last resort.

eating out


It takes practice. You can’t expect it to go perfectly. They are 2-4 years old. So set realistic expectations and don’t forget to laugh.

And if you at first don’t succeed, try again. It’s a learning experience. It’s a good place to practice table manners. And if nothing else, at least you will have some funny stories to tell later.

And last but not least, although it might have been a little stressful at times, be grateful you don’t have dishes to do. You got to sit down and eat a whole meal without having to get up and refill sippy-cups. That’s one of my favorite parts.

What are your tips and tricks for dining out with toddlers?

Where are your favorite family dining spots?

And feel free to share some of your stories! I love to hear the crazy things those toddlers do (you know the stories; the ones where you want to crawl under the table when it happened, but you can laugh about it now.)










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5 Responses to taming your toddler: tips and tricks for a successful dining experience

  1. Nicole June 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    We like going to Wise Guys Pizza and getting the buffet! Buffet is expensive, however, it is free for kids 4 and under and we always have money off coupons because we are a member of their rewards program, so it makes it very reasonable!

  2. Amanda June 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Oh, yes! Coupons are a must! 🙂 And in my case, 4 and under kids eat free is an awesome deal, considering 3 out of 4 of my kiddos are under 4. lol.

  3. Addicted2Italy (@Addicted2Italy) August 21, 2013 at 6:04 am #

    Good stuff Amanda! Very good tips and useful too. It can be a big production and a lot of stress to take them out, but in the end it sounds like it’s worth it.

    I wish my mom would toss cheerios at us when we were growing up….Italian mothers would instead throw shoes! 😉

    Keep up the good work!

    • Amanda August 23, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      It definitely is worth it in the end. Shoes! lol. That just cracks me up. I remember your mom making the most awesome four course meals when we were little. 🙂

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