Tips for Dining Out with Toddlers

We’ve been taking Amalia out to meals since she was a tiny baby. We had this pipe dream that she would peacefully sleep in her stroller as we had a leisurely lunch or dinner. Ha! Not quite…

When she was really little, we’d try to eat out during nap times so that she would sleep, but she was never a great stroller sleeper so it usually ended up being very stressful so we basically just stopped taking her out unless it was for brunch or lunch between naps as she got older.

Then at some point I realized that I could bring her out to dinner and that was a game changer. It gives us something to do on cold or rainy days and she eats so much more when we’re out of the house because she’s excited about a new environment.

But it’s not always a pretty picture, dinners out during the infamous “witching hour” can be a mess of tears and food thrown on the floor, but Anel and I have our system perfected so that doesn’t happen very often, and I wanted to share it with you today!

Tips for dining out with toddlers

Tip 1: Temper your expectations
Going out to dinner with your baby can be such a fun experience. They love to people watch and try new foods, and usually you get other diners who want to say hi which is all kinds of exciting for your kid. But it isn’t the same as dining on your own. Like with travel, it’s basically a relocation of mom duty and don’t expect to relax much unless you’re with a big group of adults who want to help.

Once you accept that, it makes things a whole lot better. We try to take Amalia out at least once every week or two, and it has become one of our favorite things to do as a family.

Tip 2: Go at the right time
Amalia starts her bedtime routine at 6pm every night, and if it goes much later than that, she turns into a very different child! So we try to make sure we plan our dinners out with her so that we get home by 6:15pm at the latest. That usually means being sat down by 5pm. #earlybirdspecial

On the nights when we’ve tried to push her, it’s gone one of two ways: 1. Complete and utter melt down, 2. Exhausted and staring out into space. But I don’t like to risk it so we just go as early as possible.

Tip 3: Pick the right restaurant
Some restaurants are much more kid friendly than others. Ask your mom friends or look up reviews on Yelp/Trip Advisor when you travel. If you need tips for local New England spots, let me know! In Fairfield County, we love Bartaco (any of them but we go to Stamford the most), Baldanza in New Canaan, Terrain in Westport, Meli Melo in Greenwich, and 1020 Post in Darien. Another great spot that is more of a food hall and better earlier in the day is Pine Street Concessions in New Canaan.

Tip 4: Order ASAP
If it’s a new restaurant or if you’re traveling, look at the menu on your way there and pick what you’re going to eat. Toddlers aren’t likely to sit still in a high chair for more than 15-20 minutes (unless you have a unicorn baby) so getting in and out without feeling too rushed is clutch. We try to sit down and order right away when possible to get the ball rolling. Explain to your waiter that you have a child who needs to get to bed soon and they usually understand and will rush your order.

Also, if you’re eating at 5pm, there usually aren’t a lot of other tables filled so that helps.

Tip 5: Bring the right gear
Babies come with a lot of stuff, but for good reason! If you have everything you need with you, you won’t get stuck in a meltdown situation. We keep her diaper bag stocked with all of our dinner gear which includes:

  • A bib This one has been great for on the go meals.
  • A suction plate–  If your child isn’t a toddler yet, you’ll soon learn that all they want to do is pick up their plates slash anything on the table, but you don’t want them eating off of a dirty table so when you BYOP, it’s a big help.
  • A sippy cup-  We’ve been using this 360 cup lately (more on the great sippy cup debate next week) and love it.
  • A travel spoon This one I never would have thought of but someone gave one to us and it’s been so helpful. It comes in a little container so you can pack it back up when you leave and wash it when you get home. Side note this OXO Tot on the go gift set would make a great gift for a new mom.
  • Distractions- We always bring books and toys so that Amalia has something to play with when she inevitably gets bored.

Do you have any other tips for dining out with a baby or toddlers? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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  1. GH said:

    Can Amalia use the spoon herself already? Or are you bringing the spoon to feed her with?

    8.21.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      She can! We’ve been teaching her over the past few weeks. It’s REALLY messy so I recommend doing it with just a bib on the baby at first. I used to use it to feed her but now it’s all her!

      8.21.18 · Reply
  2. Britta said:

    We keep disposable stick on placemats In the car/ diaper bag. I don’t like to use them a ton because of the waste of plastic, but they are clutch when you go to a restaurant where the table may not be the cleanest (fast food, neighborhood pub, etc). The one side sticks to the table and the other is a clean surface for food, nibbles, and toys.
    They come in packs of 60 and also come in handy for play dough and other crafts where you don’t want a table destroyed!

    8.21.18 · Reply
  3. Rachel said:

    Thanks for the Tot on the Go gift set idea! Would you ever do a post on great gifts for new moms or gifts for moms on their second/third child? I always try to think of something fun and useful, but I’m not a mom so I never know!!

    8.21.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I get requests for this a lot so I think I have to now!

      8.21.18 · Reply
  4. Elizabeth said:

    Good tips- especially the last one, distractions are key! My daughter is very petite and does not fit well in the standard restaurant high chair. So we bring our own – this one is amazing: It attaches to almost any table and ensures that she’s right up against the table, plus she’s strapped in so she can’t get up and move everywhere. In addition, the cover comes off and is machine washable, there is a silicone placemat that attaches under the chair so they can’t pick it up and throw it, and it comes with a travel bag. Highly recommend! (PS I am in no way affiliated with this chair.. we just really, really like it!)

    8.21.18 · Reply
  5. Ashley Diamond said:

    I just have to say that I love this picture and the “true unposed famly picture” and this post! THank you!

    8.21.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Thanks Ashley! I was so nervous to post it so I’m really glad you said this 🙂

      8.21.18 · Reply
  6. Colleen said:

    Great tips! I would add that we always bring a little fruit cup and/or some snacks for our toddler- just in case the kid menu doesn’t have something she likes, or if the restaurant takes a little while, she can at least snack before she has a hangry melt down! I love those bibs you have on Amalia! They catch everything! Oh we always have some wipes on hand to wipe of her face and hands because toddlers make a mess of every meal 🙂

    8.21.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Good call. I usually bring puffs in her little snack container as a back up. And wipes, smart!

      8.21.18 · Reply
  7. Sarah | all in the details said:

    These are great tips, Julia! We’ve only been out to eat with our son once, when he was three months old. We went for lunch at our yacht club and sat outside. It was perfect! He slept the entire time and we could have a long, leisurely meal. Now that he’s older, however, I’m looking forward to incorporating these tips!

    Sarah | all in the details

    8.21.18 · Reply
  8. Morgan said:

    The summer infant placemat with suction and a tray helps contain the mess and has been a game changer for us. There a rubber lip that hangs over the edge of the table and catches any food that would otherwise hit the ground. Rolls up perfectly to fit back in a diaper bag.

    8.21.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Ok this is awesome. One click purchase? Yes please! Thanks for the tip!

      8.22.18 · Reply
  9. Christine said:

    Love these tips! What age did Amalia start eating restaurant food? My girl just turned 8 months and recently she’s been amazing for quick meals on restaurant patios. We do baby lead weaning and I have been tempted to give her food out, but she gets so messy when she eats that I’ve resisted. Currently I breastfeed her before we go and we take toys to entertain her during the meal.

    8.22.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Probably around 9 or 10 months. We just would let her get kind of messy at first but they learn quickly!

      8.22.18 · Reply
  10. Callie said:

    another great restaurant in the area is Box Car Cantina in Greenwich. Super fun for kids and also delish for mom and dad. The margaritas are killer, watch out 🙂

    8.22.18 · Reply
  11. Stephanie said:

    Intrigued by the suction placement but wondering how well it stays put. I’ve had mediocre luck with other suction items. Also, we always ask for the bill really early (sometimes before we even get our food!) so we can dine and dash if baby girl falls apart.

    8.24.18 · Reply