How to Dine Out with Preschoolers

Does anyone else’s skin crawl at the thought of taking their preschoolers to dinner at a fine dining establishment? Especially if the kids are say….2 and 4 and VERY active? It seriously makes me a little queasy. Prior to having kids, my husband and I loved to dine out. The drinks were tall, the conversation witty, and the evening was long.

How to Dine Out with Preschoolers | all dressed up with nothing to drink...

When you bring preschoolers to a restaurant, it is an incredibly different scenario. The drinks are spilled, the conversation is pierced by exclamations of “Why did you do that??” and the evening might only last 30 minutes but feels like 3 hours.

I have figured out that quick dine restaurants are more the way to go for our family. We recently took the kids to Corner Bakery and managed to not have a total disaster or meltdown. Here are a few tips from our crew to yours on making a meal not a big deal.

Choose a restaurant that is geared towards families, aka ones that have a kids menu. Nothing is worse than having your kids be the only little ones in a restaurant, and receiving pointed looks from other patrons. Yes, kids are allowed pretty much everywhere, but really…grab a sitter if you are going to a joint with a Michelin Star. Corner Bakery worked out well for us- kids menu with healthy options (fresh fruit, milk) and there were a number of other kids present. Bonus points for activity books!

Bring a BIG bag of stuff. This might sound obvious, but I have shown up to restaurants empty handed before and ended up with daughter using my favorite lipstick to draw on paper instead of the crayons I usually carry. CRINGE. Bring more than you think you might need, and even some random junk. Books, puzzles, whatever your kids love.

Play games. There are a number of games that can keep kids entertained for longer than 5 seconds. OK, they will probably get you up to a minute. Play enough of them and you can hit 5 or even TEN minutes of entertainment! Here are my faves, depending upon age:
Tracing Hands– meant for the 1-2 year olds, they love getting their traced and trying to trace yours.
Play “What’s Missing?”– Ideal for 3, 4 and 5 year olds, compile 5 random items in front of your child, have them close their eyes, and take one away. They then have to guess what is missing. Reverse roles, add more items, there are a ton of takes on this.
Tic Tac Toe– 4 and 5 year olds love this; let them choose different symbols/ letters other than X & O.
Thumb War– if they get the concept, they are old enough to play. Even if they don’t, give it a shot; it usually makes them laugh when you trap their thumb.
I Spy– the old classic
Shell Game– I used ketchup cups and a penny; place the penny under one of three ketchup cups, mix them around, and have kids guess where the penny is.

Have a conversation. Yep, from the age of 2 on up I have conversations with my kids. I even attempted it at one but didn’t get far. For the littles, keep the questions factual to make it easier- What does a duck say? What color is your shirt? For the older ones- What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? If you could have one super power, what would it be?

Rewards. The difference between a reward and bribe is a little sketchy, but bribes are usually introduced under stress/in the heat of the moment in order to get a desired behavior/action and rewards are usually communicated in advance to honor a certain type of behavior/action. The key is in advance. Before we enter a potentially explosive situation, like a restaurant, I take my kids aside and explicitly tell them the behavior I expect and the behavior that is unacceptable. I outline the rewards and the consequences of good and bad behavior. I then ask my 4 year old questions like, “Is it ok to run around the restaurant?” or “What happens if you sit in your chair the whole meal?” My 2 year old doesn’t fully get it yet, but it helps for her to hear it.

Order your kids the same meal. I have tried ordering two different things, but my kids end up fighting over it. If you order them the same thing AND order something they don’t like for yourself (soup/salad in our case), your kids will probably end up eating their own meal….or not eating at all and grabbing a to go bag. Fine.

Always get a to go box right when you order. Saves time. I often just order my food to go and eat it at the restaurant.

Overall, our experience at Corner Bakery was relatively uneventful…which is an EXCELLENT way to describe a dinner with a 2 and 4 year old! My husband was able to enjoy a Chopped Salad and I had their new Cuban Press Panini and a bowl of Tomato Basil Soup. Of course, I snuck most of the Monster Cookies for myself for dessert.


Want to take your kids out for a meal at Corner Bakery? They gave me $15 in gift certificates to give away! All you have to do in order to enter is leave a comment here, tag me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and tell me your secret to handling preschoolers at dinner. Contest ends Sunday, March 27th at 12pm CST. I will pick a winner at random, so make sure to leave your e-mail address or other contact info (Twitter/Insta handle) so I can get in touch with you if you win!

Thank you to Corner Bakery for providing a meal for our family, as well as gift certificates to give away. Cheers!


1 Comment

  1. March 31, 2016 / 9:27 pm

    Can I just say we are twinsies because I always leave with a monster cookie!