Wrangling Wiggly Ones in Restaurants


Wrangling Wiggly ones

When you’re in the early days of dating or marriage (i.e. before children!), eating a meal out is a delightful experience.

Leisurely conversation over a piping-hot meal—what could be better? 

Then the babies start coming, and if you’ve been a parent for any length of time, you know that the eating-out experience changes forever.

The conversation changes from “How was your day?”  to “Don’t touch that. Please don’t lick the salt shaker! Get back in your chair. Could you PLEASE wait to poop until we get home???” 🙂

We have been living life ON THE ROAD for over two years now, and we eat out more frequently than I prefer (I enjoy home-cooked meals and life around our family table!).

We also have EIGHT children, of various ages, and I developed most of these strategies out of necessity when our virtual triplets were all toddlers.

Often we’re eating out with pastors and/or other missionaries—which adds another dimension to the meal, as they prefer to sit with the adults and have adult conversation.  While these tips are helpful for any growing family who desires a smoother eating-out-experience, they are especially applicable for those families in full-time ministry (and find themselves frequently parenting at restaurants).



Here’s my 5 BEST TIPS for Wrangling Wiggly Ones in Restaurants:

1. Keep things CLEAR by telling your children your expectations ahead of time, and REMINDING them of those expectations before exiting your vehicle. 

Give clear rules, and remind everyone before EVERY restaurant meal, to avoid the “I forgot” syndrome. 🙂

For example, we remind our children that they are not to argue about their seat assignment (Daddy and Mommy choose!), that they are to stay IN THEIR CHAIR unless they have an urgent need, and that since we desire to allow OTHER FAMILIES to enjoy their meal–they must use a quiet voice in the restaurant.

2. Streamline the “what do you want to eat?” dilemna by deciding what your order will be BEFORE you exit your vehicle. 

Unless we are eating at a new-to-us restaurant, I know BEFORE we sit down exactly what I’m going to order for my entire family. 

Whether it’s McDonald’s or Outback Steakhouse, ordering for 10 people can be time-consuming and STRESSFUL, so whenever possible, we choose ahead of time to streamline the process. I can rattle off the order for all 10 of us quickly and efficiently. 🙂

3. Avoid unnecessary meal disruptions by taking EVERYONE to the restroom before placing your order. 

Sigh. Even with the best-laid plans in this area, SOMEONE will need to use the bathroom during a long restaurant meal. It’s just one of those things with little ones! 🙂

4. Teach your children acceptable table manners. 

This covers burping at the table, grabbing over someone else’s plate, loud voices, whining, etc. 

Children, by nature, are TAKERS—not GIVERS—and they become quite accustomed to getting their needs met by their parents. This is a GOOD thing. 🙂 However, when you’re in a restaurant (or church potluck, or being guests at a family dinner), having a TAKER attitude can be very rude. 

“When will we eat?” “Why isn’t our food here yet?” “I’m starving, Mommy!” “Can I have dessert now?” “I hate this food!” “Is there any MORE food?” “Yuck! I’m not eating that!” etc are all phrases that little ones can be taught not to use in public, as they can be VERY offensive to hosts or waitress staff.

You can teach your children to whisper their needs to you privately if they feel they can’t wait. Give them clear expectations about the food on their plate (eat it all, or eat 5 bites, or whatever is acceptable for you) and then teach them not to fuss about it during the meal.  

Even at home, we use “I don’t care for that”, or “That’s not my favorite food” instead of “I hate that!” or “I’m not eating that!” 🙂

5. Bring along a quiet activity to keep little ones entertained, and teach your children little games to play quietly with each other.

A quick family trip to Chick-fil-a may not require anything, but a 2 hour Golden Corral experience may warrant some little things to keep the children nicely entertained while the adults visit. 

Our older children keep a couple of card games and a travel size game of Checkers in their bags. These are great ice breakers for making new friends, too! 

I keep sticker books, coloring books, colored pencils, and a small tote of Playmobil toys in our van. If I suspect the restaurant experience will go longer OR MY CHILDREN ARE TIRED FROM A LONG DAY IN CHURCH, I will let them play with these things. 

Thumb-wrestling, Rock-Paper-Scissors, Bubble-Gum-Bubble-Gum, I-Spy, and Tell-a-Story-Around-The-Table are all games we encourage our children to play while they’re waiting for the food to arrive (or for the adults to be done talking!). 🙂

I hope these tips are a blessing to you! Please leave YOUR best “Wrangling” tips in the comments below!

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