I was totally one of those overwhelmed, first-time moms that fed my son 99% of his meals from home for the first year of his life. I could probably count on one hand the times we took him out to eat as a baby! As he got a little older, we started to loosen the reigns a bit and went out to restaurants a little more frequently. But at the time, it felt like a whole new world of navigating what to order for him! I don’t want you to feel as overwhelmed as I did, so I’ve put together my tips, tricks, and choices for the best restaurant meals for toddlers!
Eating Out With A Toddler
As a parent, you can and should have boundaries set up around food and feeding. This applies to home and restaurants alike. When you get to a restaurant, let your child know what your expectations are. You’re in control of what they eat at this stage, and it’s okay to own that!
As important as it is for your kids to know that you’re calling the shots at a restaurant, you also have to remember that for yourself! You don’t HAVE to allow them to get soda or iced tea just because it’s there. For my kids, we order water (or sometimes milk) and that’s it. For a toddler or preschooler, it’s perfectly appropriate to limit them to those two beverage options. (I may change this when my kids get older, but I thought it might help you to have more conviction in your decision-making!)
Babies: Of course with a baby, you’ll choose what they have. (This age is nice because they can’t push back yet!) Read my tips on what to order for them at a restaurant in this post.
1-2 Years: If your child is 1 or 2 years old, you still should have full control over what to order for them. I know at age 2 they can start to get very opinionated and demanding (I’ve heard of “threenager” but I definitely have a “twonager” in my house), but at the most I would offer them two options from the menu at age 2.
3 Years: Around age 3, it’s appropriate to allow them to choose their own restaurant meal. Give them 2-3 simple options from the menu to choose from. This way they won’t be overwhelmed with choice, and you are still choosing the 3 options you give them.
4 Years and Up: Once they hit school age and start to read, your child can take more control with the menu. Let them look at the options and choose what they’d like to eat.
Eating Out With A Picky Eater
When you’re at a restaurant with a picky eater, try to find a safe food on the menu, even if that’s just plain bread, rice, or fruit. If worst case scenario, they don’t want to eat anything at all, it’s even okay for them to just drink a cup or two of milk.
Do your best to make them feel comfortable by finding an item on the menu that they’re okay with. (You don’t have to bring them a full meal from home!) You can offer them other foods, but be prepared for them to not want to branch out at all. That’s totally fine! The most important thing is for them to eat peacefully and enjoy the mealtime out with you, so they have a positive association with going to the restaurant. You can work on expanding food selection over time!
My Go-To Restaurant Meals for Toddlers
I often get asked what foods to order at the more common restaurants, so I’m sharing my top, healthy picks below.
Note: If your family doesn’t eat out very much (think 1-2 times a month), I honestly wouldn’t worry about choosing the healthiest thing. But, if you’re on vacation or having lots of meals out during a busy season, or if your family just eats out more regularly (once a week or more), I’d recommend being more conscious about choosing healthier options.
Go-To Breakfast Menu Items for Toddlers:
- One egg, cooked “over hard” or scrambled with no salt added
- A side of avocado slices
- Toast with butter, peanut butter, or mashed avocado
- Toast strips dipped in the yolk of a cooked egg
- Banana or other fruit (always cut grapes in half to avoid choking)
- Plain oatmeal (stir in some peanut butter for some added healthy fat)
- Plain yogurt
- Plain cottage cheese
Go-To Lunch/Dinner Menu Items for Toddlers:
- A side of avocado slices or guacamole
- Grilled chicken
- Grilled, steamed, or broiled fish
- Plain rice
- Baked potato or sweet potato, can add some butter or oil
- Shredded cheese or cheese sliced in strips
- A soft tortilla
- Pear, sliced in strips (if they have a pear salad on the menu)
- Thin apple slices
- Other fruit
Breakfast: Sunflower multigrain bagel with fresh fruit
Lunch/Dinner: Grilled nuggets, fruit, and plain milk
- Sprouted grain bagel with butter or cream cheese
- Steel cut oatmeal with milk and banana
- Egg and avocado or cheese on whole wheat toast (ask for no added salt)
- Kids PB&J (ask them to go light on the jelly)
- Turkey and cheese on whole grain bread
- Get yourself a Cobb salad and share the chicken, avocado, and hard boiled egg
- If they like hummus, share a mediterranean warm grain bowl
- Fresh fruit cup
Kids’ build your own, with:
- Flour tortillas (the crispy tortilla could be a choking hazard for toddlers)
- Chicken (or sofritas for vegetarian)
- Black beans or pinto beans
- White or brown rice (whichever you think they’ll eat, honestly)
- Kids grilled chicken dippers with pineapple or broccoli
- A side of corn on the cob with no salt
- Order yourself chicken fajitas and give them a tortilla with chicken, cheese, and avocado
Grilled Teriyaki chicken with white or brown steamed rice and super greens
- Egg McMuffin (no meat)
- Fruit & maple oatmeal (no brown sugar)
- Fruit n’ yogurt parfait (no granola)
- 4-piece chicken nuggets with apple slices
Always on the go? Easy (and healthy) pre-packaged snacks to keep you sane.
Grab your copy of my Healthy Toddler Snack Guide for healthy, pre-packaged snacks that keep you sane and your toddler healthy while you’re out and about!