Eating Out with Toddlers: Keeping Everyone Busy

Confession time: we eat out a few times a week. With the kids.

We make an effort to avoid a situation where they’re causing excessive disturbance to other diners or restaurant staff. For a variety of reasons, our family also has a no-screens-at-meals rule: so movies or games. Some exceptions are allowed from time-to-time.

Here’s some things that work for us:

  • Start young:  Every family will have their own guidelines, but we believe it really helps to start on a lot of these as early as possible so it’s ingrained what the expectations are in dining situation, at home or out and about. Basically, the same rules we expect adults to honor:
    • Remain seated while everyone’s eating: no running, walking or standing,
    • Related to previous, no standing in chairs, high chairs, boosters or booths,
    • Playing with food or drinks, or throwing anything is not OK,
    • No screaming, crying or loud behavior,
    • No screens (that’s just our thing…no judgement if that’s what works for your family),
    • Once food is on the table, everything else gets put away (crayons, etc.),
    • Talking with everyone is encouraged, but don’t talk over people and wait your turn,
    • If you don’t want to eat, that’s OK.
      Child at restaurantDrawing at a restaurant in Venice, Italy
  • Activity bag: The oldest child brings an activity bag/backpack to share. Any small backpack will do. We keep our bags in the car at all times. What’s in them? Creative activities that aren’t noisy, aren’t too messy and don’t have lots of small pieces.
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    Activity backpack

    Around the age of one, our youngest really enjoyed the buckles on her Buckle Toy Butterfly Backpack:Image of product
    Butterfly Backpack
  • Activities: In our bag:
  • Activities to think twice about: It’s useful to think about whether an activity will leave a big mess. For example, our kids actually love the Scratch and Sketch books, but they’re best for outdoors dining with no tablecloths. When the wooden stylus scratches off the black coating, the coating ends up all over the place and leaves dark soot-like smudges. These books are delightful, but it’s just a drawback to keep in mind.
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    Beware of black smudges

Happy travels!



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