Dining Out with Kids

Some of the best travel experiences are centered on food, but eating at quality restaurants with young kids can be intimidating.
We headed to the kitchen for advice. 

  Jeff Lefcourt, co-owner of    The Smith   , with two of his three kiddos in his New York City restaurant.

Jeff Lefcourt, co-owner of The Smith, with two of his three kiddos in his New York City restaurant.

I’ve got polite kids who eat well, but when I take them to a restaurant—and I’m not talking about Dairy Queen—my calorie count can hardly keep up with my anxiety levels. Sure, eating out is more common these days, but disrupting a professional power hour or couple on the verge of an engagement is always a possibility when your toddler’s idea of a good time is blowing bubbles in his milk, and your baby needs a tarp more than a bib.

I know I’m not alone. Dining out with children, especially babies and toddlers, is one of the most stressful situations for parents, so much so that I have friends—disciples of Bringing Up Bébé I might add—that have kissed off restaurants until 2026.

Restaurants are hard to avoid when you travel though, and you shouldn't try to skip them all together: Some of the best vacation experiences are centered around food. For ideas on how to successfully make it through a restaurant meal with kids, I tapped the people I worry about pissing off the most: chefs and food professionals. Read on for their advice, and click here for additional tips from this revived restaurant goer.


 Jim Caiola (right) and David Salama (left), co-proprietors of New York's Tavern on the Green with their kids Leonardo (7) and Georgia (10).

Jim Caiola (right) and David Salama (left), co-proprietors of New York's Tavern on the Green with their kids Leonardo (7) and Georgia (10).

Plan Ahead

“Decide where you will be eating before you head out. Nothing is more frustrating than making a decision when everyone is hangry. At nicer restaurants, try to go early to avoid crowds—and a potential meltdown.” - Eric Martino, Chief Operating Officer of FastGood Concepts (D.C., Maryland, and Philadelphia) and dad to kids 11, 7 and 1

Come Armed with Games

“Ask your kids close their eyes and put a bite of food in their mouth and ask them to guess what it is. You can also make this a group activity with adults.” - Jeff Lefcourt, Co-founder of The Smith (New York and D.C.) and dad to kids 8, 6, and 4 months

“Just like a car trip, it's helpful to have a few table games that everyone can play while you wait. I Spy or 20 Questions are classics—no crayons required.” - Lefcourt

“We bring coloring books and play football by folding paper napkins into a triangle. Push the triangle across the table; if it stops with part of it is off the table, it's a touchdown. Use your fingers to make a field goal.” - Jim Caiola, proprietor of the Tavern on the Green (New York) and dad to kids 10 and 7

Say Please for Swag

"At the Tavern on the Green, we have a toy menu, so while you are browsing over the food, the server can retrieve a toy from the gift shop to keep kids occupied.” - Caiola

“Opt for restaurants that have special treats for kids. Superica offers hand-made mango or orange pops that are made daily and passed out with each child's menu order. They keep kids happy and entertained.” - Ford Fry, chef-owner of the Optimist and Superica (Atlanta) and dad to kids 19 and 21, who still love those popsicles

Timing is Everything

“If you're a local at a bar, you're already familiar with the rules that apply to family dining:  Go during quieter hours, be a regular, and treat and tip the staff well. They'll remember you, be ready for you when you make reservations, and they'll engage the whole family.” - Seth-Siegel-Gardner, chef-owner of the Pass & Provisions (Houston) and dad to a three-year-old

“Eating out with kids is all about getting food in front of them fast. At longer sit-down dinners, a lot of parents opt to get their kids entrees out first, and dessert is always a must.” - Paul C. Reilly, executive chef-owner of Coperta and beast + bottle and dad to kids ages 7, 4, and 2

Expand your Kiddo’s Palate

“Apps make great entrees: Instead of defaulting to the kids menu, check out the appetizers for finger foods, dips, basically all the things kids usually love. Apps cost less, are better portion size for little ones, and you can order a few to hedge your bets about what your kids will like.” - Lefcourt

 Chef Kevin Fink with his wife Alicynn and baby Hudson at his restaurant  Emmer & Rye  in Austin, Texas.

Chef Kevin Fink with his wife Alicynn and baby Hudson at his restaurant Emmer & Rye in Austin, Texas.

Break Out the Mop

“Dining out makes parents anxious, but restaurants are built around hospitality—we want you and your child to be happy. The one ‘no no’ is to let your kid destroy the table and floor. Offer to help clean it up.” - Kevin Fink, chef of Emmer & Rye (Austin) and dad to a one-year-old

Tip Well

“Consider giving your server a bit extra in the tip to deal with the inevitable mess.” – Reilly

Looking for more tips? Here's my list. 

 
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Let's Cook!

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When you’re on vacation, going to a market or grocery store can be a fun
way to learn about local foods. No matter where you are cooking,
this breakfast dish is delicious, fun to make, and comes from one of my
favorite cookbooks, It's So Good.

Hole in One

Ingredients (serves 1)
2 strips of bacon
1 slice of whole-wheat bread
1 egg
Salt and pepper

1. In a small pan, fry bacon on medium-high heat until it is lightly cooked on both sides.

2. Using a cookie cutter, cut a circular hole out of the center of the whole-wheat bread (you can either toast the piece you cut out or fry it in the bacon fat). Place the bread on top of the two strips of bacon, which should be arranged parallel to each other like an equal (=) sign. Crack the egg into the hole, which should expose portions of both bacon strips.

3. Fry until the white has partially cooked through. Then flip the egg and bread over (the bacon should be fused to the bread by the egg). Let cook until the egg is done to your liking. Season with salt and pepper and eat warm.

Tip Use any shape cookie cutter that you want. Be creative!

Recipe by Nevin Martell

What are your top tips for dining out with kids? Let me know below!