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Parents- Do you bring food into a restaurant for your kids?

I'm starting a thread because I'm not entirely sure what the proper etiquette for this situation is and I thought I'd see what the hounds thought.

To preface, I have a 20 month old and my husband and I sometimes take him with us out to eat. We go at off-times to places that are willing to accomodate children and do everything in our power to make sure we are non-disruptive to other diners. Thus far, he's been pretty well-behaved and not caused any incidents, but he's still a toddler and it is our responsibility to make sure we are well prepared for any possibility. Sometimes this means that he is too hungry to wait for an order that is taking longer than expected, or, for whatever reason, he has rejected the food we got from the restaurant for him and yet is still hungry. Therefore, I now have a "mom-purse" that is littered with bags of emergency cheerios and usually a banana or cup of apple sauce.

My questions are:

1. Is it ok for me to bring outside food in to give to my child? I can't imagine it being ok to do this for adults, and if it's ok for kids, what's the cut-off age?

2. Is it ok for me to feed him outside food if I'm not ordering anything specifically for him? (I've yet to see anything on a children's menu that we would give him, so when we can, we order from the regular menus, but more often than not, it works best for us to just give him some of our food)

Very curious on everyone's thoughts on this, thanks!

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  1. I might have had an emergency pack of Annie's cheddar bunnies but more often than not I found if you give them the snack while waiting, then they refuse to eat because they're not hungry, so then it's a real nightmare as the food arrives and the kid is DONE and wants to GO NOW.

    The way we've always done it is, as soon as everyone figures out what they want, one person takes the child somewhere to entertain them. Walk around and look at stuff inside the restaurant (carrying them or holding hands, not a child running loose), or, optimally even in cold weather, go outside in front of the restaurant and play for a few minutes. We might even bring some kind of toy to play with. Then the other parent calls you when all the food has arrived AND the kid's food is cut up, cooled off enough to eat and ready to go. If you take them when they are very hungry, they have a much higher chance of settling down and eating, but it's also harder to get them to wait, hence distracting them until food arrives.

    I can say at this point (almost 4) we do not do this anymore. The point at which you stop is the point you realize your child actually can wait in some fashion without the snacks, and that snacks should be saved for a true "emergency," like a horrible traffic tie up at dinnertime or something.

    When I have been alone with the little one handling this, I just tell the server we will be back in a few minutes and then do the same thing until I see or get a feeling the food has arrived.

    YMMV of course.

    The other thing to do is as soon as the food is served, ask for the check and to-go boxes. This way you are ready to leave IMMEDIATELY if you need to vacate. We never get anything besides the meal so no reason we can't just settle up as soon as the food is served. Typically, then the OTHER parent would take the kid outside while the original one who took the child out could then pack up food and handle settling the check, so the child duty is split.

    10 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      We do the entertain him somewhere else thing too, but our kid is basically a garbage disposal of food. Once we're in a restaurant and he sees food anywhere, he wants it. Him not being hungry enough to eat is almost never a concern. We also ask for the check as soon as we order, just in case we need to bolt.

      Did you ever feel guilty bringing in the Annie's snacks, or you didn't worry about that because you rarely had to use them?

      1. re: hyacinthgirl

        I would say the latter. We were just never the people spooning up applesauce or whatever. Mostly because we try hard to avoid restaurants with all of us because a) expensive and b) tiny kid. I packed picnic food for road trips so we wouldn't have to deal with fast food and crap on the road, and have ordered in at hotels. So restaurant out when the kid was basically younger than 3 was more of a desperation move, so we just employed that same tactic each time. I don't even remember giving him jarred baby food as a baby in a restaurant, but we almost never went out when he was a really small infant as he needed constant movement. I remember one brunch where we each took turns standing next to the table rocking back and forth while the other ate. So glad those days are gone.

      2. re: rockandroller1

        When our daughter no longer ate from a blender jar, she would be taken to a restaurant. Since table manners were enforced from the start, we rarely had to leave due to her actions. Twice that I can think of.

        And I did not have a man purse full of nibbles for her. She got her snacks and meals at a set time. She learned patience. She grew up in a military dictatorship. Military Police on one side and Armor on the other.

        If you do have to bring food, I hope you will volunteer to your server that you will gladly pay a plate charge. And please tip in relation to the demands your little darling has required.

        Sorry, bad day. Two hellions invaded the office and their adults did nothing to restrain them. Antiques damaged, computers turned on, candy stolen. You get the idea.

        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          "And please tip in relation to the demands your little darling has required."

          Egad, once again the tipping monster rears its ugly head.

          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            You do realize that every kid is different right? I have a friend with two children. The older one is very well behaved, and has been since he was a baby. Started sleeping through the night at 1 month old etc. His younger sister can be really awful... cries a lot, is very dramatic. Even now they are a bit older and he's totally content to just sit and read a book or play video games by himself, whereas she needs constant attention and runs around like crazy. They were raised exactly the same... just personalities come into play at some point. So, that's great your daughter did so well but even the best parenting can't prevent some kids from being a bit nuts.

            1. re: juliejulez

              Sounds like in this case the children were not allowed to eat at restaurants until they were much older. Bizarre yet some people do not expose their babies/toddlers to public settings because the adults struggle to deal with many behaviors prominent at those ages.

              Not me lol, I was breast feeding my baby at restaurants and (gasp) not tipping as if she had ordered a beverage. She now loves the social aspect of eating out even though her teeth are still catching up with her.

              1. re: olyolyy

                That cracks me up about the beverage olyolyy. Good points. My mom always said that if the kids were not expected to sit and eat with the family for the entire meal at home, then how can you expect them to do it when out?

            2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

              Not sure why you replied to me on that one?

              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                "Two hellions invaded the office and their adults did nothing to restrain them. Antiques damaged, computers turned on, candy stolen. You get the idea."

                Your issue is with "their adults" in this situation. Did no one step up and ask them to rein in the children?

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  I've had the invisible parent's children running through the office days too, they suck.

                  My tip always increases when we have our child in case there are additional messes/challenges for the server. That said, if he knocks something on the floor accidentally, or spills in his booster seat, I also make a point to clean the area before we leave.

              2. I always keep a small meal and thermos of milk on me when I eat out with my 16 month old. Most places I go do not have a kids menu. Between teething and temperament, it's critical to be prepared that a baby might not eat what's being served (even of they do so most of the time) to have an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. It does seem there is a cutoff age after the toddler years.

                I have seen parents that eat out and pack older kids their own food presumably because the cost is too high or the food available for kids is unhealthy(or maybe just picky eaters?). I don't blame them, kids menu options have a ways to go at most places and it can be costly and frustrating to have a child not eat a $15 meal, etc.

                1. I don't have kids, but I don't see any issue if the foods are snacky type foods like you mentioned...cheerios, a piece of fruit, applesauce. Basically anything that's not like what they have available in the restaurant. I think the age cut off is maybe once they can form full sentences, so what, like 3? At that point you can order him something off the kid's menu, or maybe an appetizer if you don't like what's on the kid's menu.

                  I do agree w/ maybe tipping a bit more if you're requesting an extra plate and he's eating off of your plates. I was out to eat at a Thai place on Friday night and next to us was a family of 4, and the kids were small, and just eating off of mom and dad's orders, but they left a ginormous mess, on both the table and the surrounding floor. Now maybe your kid is clean but that is a lot of extra work for the staff so a larger tip would be greatly appreciated.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: juliejulez

                    Many years ago, I was a server and I dreaded getting a table with a young child for exactly that reason. I might now be a bit oversensitive to that, as at least twice a server or busser has told me to worry about it as I obsessively try to track down and clean any possible mess that might be left. Out of guilt, I probably leave a cleaner table when I'm dining with my child than I do when we're alone.

                  2. When my daughter was an infant and toddler, I was always prepared with food in the diaper bag (goldfish crackers, string cheese, fruit) for emergencies. I never hesitated to serve her those items in restaurants and honestly wouldn't have thought about it being an etiquette issue as my goal was to keep her quiet and well-mannered during the meal. Of course if there were crumbs, etc. as a result of her eating I would clean those up (same if I had purchased the mean and she made a mess).

                    If there was something on the menu that she could and would eat, I would order it. But there are just times when a tired toddler on vacation and away from regular surroundings just prefers something familiar. IIRC, this was probably til she was about 3.

                    1. I don't what is proper but I never have brought my own food into a restaurant for my child.

                      As soon as he started solid food he ate whatever we ate with rare exception ie: peanuts, honey, extreme spicy.

                      When he was very small I travelled with a small hand held food mill and and would just process whatever I was eating thru it. As he got a little older I would cut up some of my dinner for him. As a toddler I ordered what I thought he would like.

                      I am lucky that many of the local places (high end and casual) were happy to make small servings of menu items for nominal prices. I think they were just happy to see a kid eating something other than pasta and chicken nuggets!

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: foodieX2

                        I love that places were willing to make smaller servings! At home we feed him whatever we're eating, but he's going through a stage where that sometimes means he spends 5-10 minutes whining about the meal before he agrees to try/eat it. At home, we can ignore his whining and carry on, but I wouldn't subject strangers to this in a restaurant, so I like to have options on hand in case he is having his occasional sudden moments where he can NOT BELIEVE WE WOULD DARE SUGGEST HE EAT CHICKEN (that he loved yesterday).

                        1. re: hyacinthgirl

                          See, I'm meaner than you. If he won't eat the chicken (that was fine yesterday, I hear you on that one), he doesn't eat. I do NOT offer alternatives, at home or while out. If he's going to whine about it and be a shit, we will just leave. The act of packing up stuff like we're leaving can act instantly to make him shut up and eat his chicken, and if it doesn't, we're out of there, because if you can't stop behaving like a chimp, we're gone. Yes, I am that mom.

                          1. re: rockandroller1

                            And that was my Mom (and Dad). We (older brother, younger sister, and I) ate what was put in front of us. And we learned very quickly that it didn't make either parent happy if we had to leave because we threw a tantrum.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              I'm "mean" at home in the same way that you've stated and to be honest, we're limiting our times eating out right now because he is going through this phase and we don't want to be firm at home and weak while out. However, we've had a few situations lately where just leaving didn't seem to be the best option for the situation. For instance, while this wasn't a restaurant, we were at a Passover seder last night, hosted by a friend and he suddenly refused all of the food he normally loved. There was no place in the small house we could have removed him to and it was cold outside, so our options would have been to leave entirely, abandoning friends and family, let him whine through the seder and disrupt everyone or give him some matzoh to shut him up. I went with the matzoh. I don't know if it was the right choice, I don't feel great about giving in to that behavoir ever, but, it's what I did.

                              1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                I get that. You have to be a little flexible and it sounds like that's when I would have pulled out my package of annie's bunnies from the diaper bag.

                                1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                  The baby is only 20 months right? Sometimes you just have to comfort them:)@20 months they are not cognitively able to reason things out they operate on impulse to a great extent. To me it sounds like you are doing a really good job with him by taking him with you out and about so he can see the world.Just remember hyacinth when the going gets tough have a glass or two of good wine:)

                                  1. re: Lillipop

                                    If I weren't currently incubating #2, I'd be all over the wine suggestion :)

                                    1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                      Oh My Goodness! Congratulations on that:)

                                      1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                        Oh, bother, I'll just have to drink your share for you :)

                                    2. re: hyacinthgirl

                                      HG...cut the kid some slack...it was a holiday..

                                      Be patient, you are on the right track....Read on..
                                      When my daughters were about 3 and 5 we were invited to a friend of my father's Seder...the friend said we don't eat until everyone is here...we were on time @ 6:30, so we fed them a little something before ,at home, because their normal dinner time was about 6PM....The friend's son showed up @ 8PM..My father's friend had no grandchildren and mine were the only little ones out of 14 persons...the son and the friend said let's start the Seder..it was about 8:15....my wife and stepmom took my girls in the kitchen and fed them just before the late son arrived...
                                      Honestly, my girls were little angels, and then asked , daddy why didn't you eat anything...I told that I needed a timeout and had to leave (8:30)...I munched on a piece of matzoh all the way home!

                                      1. re: melpy

                                        It's a lot of work. What are your credentials? :)