How to Dine Out With Kids Without Melting Down

Traveling with the little ones doesn’t have to mean giving up on good food.

By Stirling Kelso

A contributing editor of Endless Vacation magazine, Stirling Kelso is also the founder of Half Pint Travel, a community that inspires parents—and their kids—to explore the world.

Before having children, I scheduled entire vacations around breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I set reminders to make reservations at Michelin-starred restaurants and even planned meals which involve hopping from restaurant to restaurant, trying different dishes that focused on dumplings in San Francisco or prawns in Vancouver. But having kids can turn mealtime on its head. For many families, dinner at a restaurant becomes all about refueling, not lingering over new flavors. Parents worry about kiddos acting out, making a mess, or picking at their food in public.

But family vacations are a balancing act between kid wants and parent wishes, and you shouldn’t give up on great food. Read on for my road-tested tips on how to have a nice meal out with children, even babies and toddlers.

Plan ahead.

It’s one thing to stroll aimlessly around a city in search of a restaurant when you’re a couple. This movie moment looks very different when the whole family is tired and hangry. It helps to have restaurant plans in place before you head out for the day and to pack a few snacks in case things get off schedule.

Be flexible.

Traveling with young kids doesn’t mean having to skip destination restaurants, but you might want to opt for lunch service instead of dinner or to make reservations during off-hours. Call and ask about family-friendly tables, perhaps in a booth or on a patio. And don’t forget that great chef-owned restaurants come in all shapes and sizes, from lively bistros and market halls to food trucks and eateries with walk-up counters.

Arm yourself with games.

Kids are bound to start squirming before you’ve finished your meal. Consider bringing along a few distractions—coloring books, finger puppets, a handful of magnet tiles—similar to those you’d carry on an airplane. You may want to avoid pulling out tablets, especially in countries such as France where screens at the table aren’t common.

Know when to break away.

Kids get fidgety. Babies cry. If your children start acting up, take them out for a walk around the block. They can burn off some energy, and you won’t disturb other diners.

See the bigger picture.

It’s helpful to think of the benefits of dining out with your children, especially when they’re picking the truffles off of their risotto. Eating is a cultural experience, one that teaches kids about different foods, table manners, and social and cultural norms. Remember, practice makes perfect: The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Save room for dessert.

End the meal with something sweet. Call it a reward for good behavior—even if it sometimes feels more like a bribe!

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: October 2018