10 Steps to Survive Eating Out with Kids


I hate meal times. With one child who has texture issues with all foods other than bacon and another who feels like her life performance is constrained when having to sit in a seat, it is unpleasant.

Even more, I hate taking the kids out to eat. Take all the struggles of the dinner table at home and magnify them and put them on public display. Not to mention I’m a germaphobe so I’m all “don’t touch the table”, “keep your hands in your lap”, “go wash your hands again!”.

They are 4 and 6, so they should be able to handle eating out. Like most things, it’s not them, it’s me.

I would rather cook a thousand meals than eat at a restaurant with kids.

But this week on spring break, I took the kids out to lunch…by myself.

We went to the ARC park and then had lunch at the nearby Mill on MacAurther. And, it was fine. It was actually more than fine. It was awesome.

However, I don’t want to give myself too much credit for loosening up; it definitely wasn’t spontaneous.

Here are 10 choices I made to survive eating out with some sanity:

1. The venue.

I chose somewhere with food they like in order to set myself up for success. The kids split a BLT minus the LT. That’s right: bread, mayo, havarti, and 3 breakfasts’ worth of bacon. My son deemed it the best thing he has ever eaten.

2. The timing.

I carefully timed our arrival for right when they opened for lunch at 11:00 before the lunch rush. That way there wouldn’t be a wait for a seat and there would be less chaos. The last thing I need when eating out with the kids is more chaos.

3. Communicate expectations.

Before we got out of the car, I made eye contact with each of the kids as I articulated what I expected of them.

4. Minimize wait time.

We already knew what we were ordering and ordered as soon as we sat down.

5. Shut it down.

When my youngest called out, “Hey, waitress!”, I shut it down immediately. Although we were the only ones in the restaurant and it could have been easy to laugh, I didn’t crack a smile. I quickly and clearly explained that servers are here to help us. We will be kind, patient, and polite. Then I had the kids verbally list what it looks like to be kind, patient, and polite to the server.

6. Easy entertainment.

Waiting for food can be brutal especially on empty park tummies, but that’s no excuse for impatience. To keep little minds busy, we played simple listing games like on a long car ride: What are words that start with T? What objects do you see that are rectangles? What is your favorite thing about your sibling? What is something that makes you laugh?

And I always have a pack of cards in my purse, just in case. We didn’t even need them.

7. Group handwashing.

When I sensed the food was coming soon, we all went together to the restroom to wash our hands. Since the food came out shortly after we washed hands, it minimized the amount of time I had to tell them not to touch everything.

8. Ask for what you need.

When the sandwiches came, I envisioned the entire contents landing in my four-year-old’s lap. I asked for a toothpick to put in each sandwich to keep it together and no contents spilled.

9. Dessert surprise.

My kids have never had dessert at a restaurant, so when I requested a gluten-free cookie at the end of lunch, they about lost their mind. The server brought it out with whipped cream and chocolate sauce drizzled around it like a bonafide restaurant dessert. A $0.75 cookie has never been so exciting.

10. Tidy up after yourself.

At home, the kids are expected to take their plates to the sink. I didn’t require them to take their dishes back to the kitchen, but I did ask them to pick up their napkins off the floor and any crumbs on the table. Someone has to clean that up; let’s make it easier on them.

It was a great lunch. The kids ate every bite of their food and shared lots of laughs. They learned and practiced consideration of others. I’m a fan of anything that promotes consideration of others as it is practiced far too little in our society.

I won’t say our great lunch made me any less uptight. I definitely won’t say we will be dining out on the regular.

But in the context of raising adults, knowing how to eat out respectfully must be practiced.

And that cookie sure was delicious.