Eating Out Strategy for the Toddler Years

Summer to me means patio dining to me. Kids and all, y’all. I love nothing better than dinner at a restaurant where I can relax and enjoy my food and a good drink. Relax is sort of a crazy word to use when you have a toddler, but it can totally happen. If you’re terrified of eating out with your little ones I feel you. Some days I’m feeling brave and other days I just say no and heat up chicken nuggets at home. But after much trial and error I finally feel like I’ve figured out what works for us. 

Consider Bedtime 

No one likes to eat out with a grumpy baby. We’ve moved to a later bedtime for the summer so 5:30 is really our sweet spot when going out. I know that if I can get to a restaurant by then, I probably have an hour to an hour and a half before the exhausted meltdown occurs. Consider when your child sleeps and plan your arrival accordingly. Definitely DO NOT try to take your toddler to a restaurant an hour before bedtime and expect them to behave. It’s not happening and it’s probably not worth the stress. 

Go Prepared

Colors, markers, color paper, favorite small toy….check, check, check. I always bring my own in case the restaurant doesn’t have these. We start off with these distractions and use them through the appetizer and meal. 

Have a Plan

I order an appetizer a soon as I order the drinks so it comes out asap. I have no shame when I tell the server that I would like them delivered as soon as possible. I prep myself to place my order for food as soon as the app comes out. Food keeps my tribe happy.

Know Your Child’s Limitations 

If you’ve made it through the app and most of their dinner (I know, you probably haven’t finished yours but I have a plan) you’re doing great. You’ve bought yourself probably 20 minutes so far and the kids are hopefully still hanging in there. Now is the time to break out tablets. Again …. NO SHAME.  By now the kids basic needs of food and parental quality time has been meet. By doing this you can buy yourself another 20 minutes or so of semi quiet so you can finish your meal without shoving it rapid fire style down your throat. Bonus points if you packed their headphones. 

Time Your Exit 

Once again timing is everything when you eat out wit kids. That mid-meal check in when your server comes back to ask how your food is? Prime time to ask for the check. The restaurant has probably gotten a little busy by now and this gives your server time to grab the check. For us if I wait too long in asking and my server gets tied up with other tables, this is where meltdown is most likely to occur. Nothing is worse then when you run out of food, distractions and patience to be stuck waiting for the check. 

Tip Well

I can’t stress the enough. If you have a server that goes out of their way to help make your dinner enjoyable, please show your appreciation. I have several servers that I use that I prefer to sit in their section. They take care of me and I take care of them. 

Hopefully my plan of attack will help you out. Being a mom of small kids doesn’t mean you should have to give up the things you enjoy most. Getting a sitter isn’t always possible so the next best thing is having a plan!

Do you have any tried and true methods that work for you? I’d love to hear them. 

Carlie is a divorced mom of five. She moved to Lafayette 22 years ago from a small town in-between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. She has four young adult children from her first marriage that ended after 19 years, Christopher, Cara, Clay and Cade. She has a one year old daughter, Poppy Mae with her significant other, Joey. She is a work-at-home mother who is a freelance writer and photographer/owner of Carlie Anne Collective. Organized chaos and tons of lists are her style. Carlie loves to workout, travel, visit with her friends, bike with Poppy Mae in their neighborhood, attend outdoor concerts, eat out at local restaurants, walk aimlessly through stores looking for good deals and swing in her hammock while chatting about her BST addiction with her online friends. She keeps an active Instagram account as a photo journal of her days.


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