Managing Hanger: Entertaining Kids in Restaurants

Florence Ann Romano in a pink dress

Avoid a hangry meltdown and make mealtime a priority with these six methods for entertaining kids in public

Sitting down for a meal with your children has so many benefits! Research has found that eating regular family meals improves children’s vocabulary, makes them twice as likely to get A’s in school and more. Mealtime is a dedicated time to be involved in each other’s lives and build deeper connections.

Taking children out to eat is also just a great way to have fun with the little ones in your life, but things can get stressful and downright disruptive if you’ve got a hangry—hungry and angry— child on your hands. Everyone wants to avoid a tantrum and we all know that if there’s one common cause for a meltdown, it’s hunger. Whether they missed snack time, had a late lunch or are just having one of those days, a hangry kid can make going out to eat really hard.

When the hangries strike, a little bit of planning can go a long way! If the word “no” is a known tantrum trigger, keep these five alternatives to “no” in your back pocket to prevent a meltdown. When your little ones start showing signs of stress, use these three kid-friendly relaxation techniques.

Before you head out to eat, stash a few items in your bag and keep these fun little games top of mind. The most important part of sharing a meal as a family is engaging with one another. Asking questions, telling stories and playing games helps children create positive experiences that translate far beyond the dinner table.

1. Color together

Whether you choose to color inside or outside the lines, a coloring book is a classic restaurant activity for kids. Try bringing along food-related coloring sheets or images of your child’s favorite character to make it extra fun. Keep the kiddos preoccupied by joining in on the fun or talking with them about their page and color choices. As you color, ask questions about their day. Showing interest in their activities reminds them that they have people to rely on, and allows you to get a sense of their lives outside of the house.

2. Doodle on a notebook

Keeping a notebook and pencils on hand gives you access to unlimited possibilities. Play a game of tic-tac-toe, connect the dots or hangman. Write a short story together and draw your own illustrations to go along with it or get creative and just doodle freely across the page.

To get the creative juices flowing, start by having the child draw any shape on the page. From there, you turn that shape into something else and tell a story to bring it to life. For example, a circle can turn into a ladybug who is looking for a flower to take a nap on. Take turns with your little one and let them come up with the story.

3. Play “I Spy with My Little Eye”

I Spy is classic, fun and really engaging. Point out interesting things in a restaurant, describing them by their texture, color or shape. You can “spy” things like your cup, the register or a tray. Let your little one use their eyes and reasoning skills to guess your object. The best part about I Spy? You don’t need to bring anything with you to play it!

4. Read picture books

Reading books in a restaurant offers a quick escape from the hangries. Bring new and captivating stories to keep your little one’s attention while you wait for your food. Auntie Lo Tip: up the fun by dividing up the characters to read for, reading each one’s dialogue in a different voice or describing the illustrations as you read.

5. Play with toy cars

Drive up and down the ketchup bottle, under the napkin holder and along the fork-lined table with any toy on wheels. Use a pencil and paper to draw little roads for the kids to cruise on. Create a narrative to get a child’s imagination going and ask them to join in on the storytelling.

6. Watch a kid-friendly show

As much as we try to limit screen time, sometimes a game or video is the only thing that can prevent a total meltdown in a restaurant. Keep some kid-friendly content on your phone to hold your child over until the food is served. Some reliable go-tos are clips from your little one’s favorite show, toy unboxing videos and, of course, baby shark.

If dining out is creating too much tension, avoid eating at restaurants–this family even took a two-year break from restaurants with kids. It’s a special treat to go out for dinner, but spending positive, quality time as a family is most important. Make the conversation a priority and use dinner time as an opportunity to recharge after a long day and reconnect with your kids. They’ll learn to love and look forward to this time together.

Remember, always have courage and be kind.

XO,
Florence Ann 💛