Eating On-the-Go

Mother with toddler son sitting on her lap at a restaurant

Young children are messy, especially when you're eating out or are at someone else's house. When you combine the possible mess with the unspoken rules of dining away from home, it adds up to a stressful time for parents. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are suggestions from parents who found ideas that worked: 

Back-Up Bib

While visiting my parents, I realized I'd forgotten to bring a bib. My mom came to the rescue. She wrapped a dish towel around my daughter's neck and quickly fastened it with a bag clip. When done, we unclipped it and threw the dish towel into the wash.

—Tracey Mengedoth

Restaurant Survival Tips

Eating out with a toddler can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Try these tips for peaceful restaurant outing:

Schedule mealtimes wisely. Choose a time when your toddler is rested. Dine out during off hours for shorter wait times and fewer people.

Fight boredom. Toddlers get restless easily. Pack a doodle pad or small toys that can be played with at the table.

Set expectations. On the way to the restaurant, remind your child of the rules. Toddlers can understand, “We won’t throw our spoon on the floor” and “You need to stay in your seat.”

Rehearse good manners. To teach proper etiquette, try playing “restaurant” at home with your child. Allow him or her to order from pretend menus, and practice talking quietly and remaining seated until excused.

—Ashleigh Slater

Toddler Dinner Date

Taking a toddler out to eat — not at a fast-food place but a restaurant — can be daunting. Here are some tips to make the experience more pleasant:

  • Purchase plastic stick-on place mats to keep your table clean, child safe from germs and server happy, if the restaurant doesn’t provide a place mat. When done, peel it off and throw it away.
  • Order food from the side order menu — it’s often less expensive and healthier than a kids’ menu.
  • Bring a variety of quiet toys and activities, such as books, dolls or Play-Doh. Or play “I Spy” or “What’s your favorite ?”
  • Ask for crackers for your child when you order drinks.
  • Praise good behavior, which will reinforce your toddler’s good manners.

—Jennifer Bussey

The compiled article “Eating On-the-Go” first appeared on (2016). "Back-Up Bib" first appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Restaurant Survival Tips" first appeared in the August/September 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Toddler Dinner Date" first appeared in Focus on Your Child Early Stages, January 2008. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

“Eating On-the-Go” compiled article copyright © 2016 by Focus on the Family. “Back-Up Bib” copyright © 2015 by Tracey Mengedoth. Used by permission. “Restaurant Survival Tips” copyright © 2012 by Ashleigh Slater. Used by permission. “Toddler Dinner Date” copyright © 2008 by Focus on the Family. 

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