Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eating With Toddlers: Sara Picks Good Places For Good Food; A Call For Your Suggestions

Jason's Deli -- with toddler fingers
It's shocking how little experience that I have eating with children.  That's why Sara has stepped in for a guest post to kick of talk about toddler eating.

This is part of a series of guest posts by Howard County bloggers.  For local food blogs, check out the HocoBlogs food page.

Sara blogs at Sunshine Whispers, and she mixes posts on religion, food, kids' activities and more.  She has even created a resource page with links to all kids of toddler activities.  She also plays violin in the Columbia Orchestra.  That community group has its first concert of the season on October 11, and Sara will both play and post about the group as the season unfolds.

But Sara is here now for food. Specifically, her recommendations about good places to take toddlers for good food.  Sara and I want your recommendations as well.  She is experienced enough to mix her recommendations with delicious food, healthy options, and extras like table service and crayons.

Take it away Sara:
It can be incredibly traumatic to go to a restaurant with a toddler. Gone are the days when baby would sleep in the carrier while Mom and Dad enjoyed a nice quiet meal out. Gone are the days when baby was content to sit in a high chair, falling for the old ‘airplane in the hangar’ trick. Nope, you are in the jungle now Mom and Dad. At the crossroads of ‘I want to do it!’ and ‘I’m done. Get me out of here!’ Proceed with caution. Fortunately, there are a few restaurants in Howard County that could be considered ‘safe zones.’ Restaurants that provide healthy, tasty menus for both parents and toddlers are essential. Restaurants that include some added ‘nice touches’ are amazing. 
Here is a list of my top picks for toddler-friendly restaurants in Howard County: 
Jason’s Deli: 8874 McGaw Road, Columbia, MD (right across from Wegmans),
As a Mom, I cannot say enough good things about Jason’s Deli. First of all, everything on their menu is free of trans-fat and high fructose corn syrup. This is a chain but the menu options are surprisingly healthy, including a healthy, all-you-can-eat salad bar. There are plenty of kid friendly options, and everyone gets ice cream at the end of the meal. The best part for families with toddlers? Servers bring the food to you. 
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers: 8640 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia, MD,
I did an unscientific survey of parents and Red Robin was a consistent winner in the ‘good for toddler’ category. The kid menu has many picky eater pleasers like grilled cheese, pizza, and mac ‘n cheese. Kids get crayons while you wait and seriously, this is a family favorite. That means it is loud… so your little firecracker can be loud too! 

Uno Pizzeria & Grill: Columbia Mall and Long Gate
Uno’s is a fun restaurant that has fun and tasty alternatives for tots. They offer the same kid-friendly fare as most restaurants, but with some healthy flourishes. The chicken nuggets are baked, not fried. Available sides include grapes, broccoli, and brown rice. A super fun option (that we have not yet tried… I am not that brave yet) is ‘Make Your Own Pizza.’ The kids get an apron, pizza dough and the toppings. They get to make their own pizza and then it is baked along with the orders for the rest of the table. That is cool! 
Mimi’s Café: 8250 Gateway Overlook Drive, Elkridge, MD,
For a chain restaurant, Mimi’s Café really goes all out to create a welcoming environment for families with toddlers. There are many great choices on their kids menu and most of them come with fruit or veggie sides. One of the nicer touches though is the fact that any kid in a high chair is given a bib (insurance for if you forget yours), crayons and a coloring menu, and a free ‘toddler’ appetizer that consists of cereal, crackers, and orange slices.

Runners Up? The four restaurants listed above are hard to beat, but there are other options that would be great for toddlers as well—both from a food and environment standpoint. Other restaurants to consider include:
• Fuddruckers
• Mission Barbeque- great food. Loud restaurant.
• Maiwand Kabob (for takeout)
• Qdoba
• Noodles & Company
• Eggspectations
• Nordstrom Café in the Columbia Mall 
Where do you take your toddler? I need more options!


Joseph Reninger said...

Is Chick-fil-A too obvious to mention?

Trevor Greene said...

Yeah, I gotta second chick-fil-a. There is no place around that is more toddler friendly.

Anonymous said...

Highly second the UNO's pick. BW3s actually has a surprisingly good kids menu. And lots of TVs, of course...LOTS of TVs. Plus a tablet with games that they give to kids. For a non-chain, I nominate Pachanga in Ellicott City. Very friendly waitstaff for the kiddos.

Kat said...

A quick rundown of pubs (because, if anything, toddlers make you want to drink more microbrews, not less):

Frisco Taphouse: OK for toddlers; the TVs keep them hypnotized and you can cobble together some pretty good toddler dining from the sides menu. Also Frisco shares the Red Robin benefit of "so loud, no one can hear your kid throwing a tantrum."

Victoria Gastropub: They have a pretty tasty kid's menu, but you may have to bring your own entertainment; I don't think they gave us any crayons.

Columbia Ale House: Again, seat your toddler where they can be hypnotized by whatever sport is being played on the televisions, and again, you can assemble some pretty good toddler dining from the sides. Also, they sometimes provide chalkboards or magnetic doodle boards for the kiddos.

Ellicott Mills Brewing Co: The staff is very family-friendly and has gone the extra mile to get our toddler's food out first. Be warned though that the only changing tables are in the bathrooms on the top floor; if you are seated in the basement or the ground floor, you'll have to climb some stairs. With your stinky toddler.

White Oak Tavern: provided crayons and a solid kid's menu, but I have to ding them for not having any changing tables at all. Who provides kid's menus but doesn't provide changing tables? I had to take the kid out to the car.

Michelle said...

On the fancier end, we've had great luck at Victoria Gastro Pub. They have a "no-kids" room but you often see families in the rest of the place, a decent kids menu, and just a general nice-ness about kids and their quirks.

For chains, Ruby Tuesday is a favorite for us (though we don't go locally much - more of an on-the-road choice.)

Anonymous said...

Red Robin is definitely our go to place for our toddler (loud, many choices for toddlers and adults, and usually fast with food).

Cheeburger Cheeburger is a close second.

Not my favorite place for food necessarily, but Bob Evans has "Kids eat Free" night on Tuesdays if we are in a time crunch on a Tuesday night ad looking for a cheap meal.

Megan said...

We *love* going to Soretti's with our 2 year old. We get a veggie combo, and she just can't get enough of the yellow split peas or the cabbage & potatoes. And really, it's just so much fun for a kidlet to watch the grown ups eating with their hands too. (Sad note - they don't have a changing table, but that's literally my only complaint)

We've had a lot of luck at most of the Vietnamese restaurants in the area. Just ask for an extra bowl and spoon -- it's really hard to go wrong with noodles and broth.

She's done well at Xitomate (black beans & rice and an appetizer of guac... that's pretty much heaven for my daughter).

We actually have a lot of trouble with places with lots of TVs (for us, distracted toddler = more food on the floor), so while Kloby's takeout is great, we find the dining room to be a guaranteed mess of an evening.

But the absolute best kids' menu we've run across? Great Sage. All the options are healthy food that I'm happy to give my child (unlike most kids' menus), and they do give you crayons. We usually end up ordering her an appetizer instead of a kids' meal, though. (Or, in the case of her birthday, I totally ordered her a cinnamon roll that was so huge she couldn't finish it, but usually we make healthier choices.) :)

Sara Reimers said...

Hi all! Thanks so much for your comments and everything! Yeah... Chick-fil-A is a go-to for our family too. I felt kind of lame for even suggesting that on the post since all the other posts on HowChow are for restaurants a cut above. ha! However, I guess the point is that with toddlers, all bets are off, right? :-) I love Victoria Gastropub and the Columbia Ale House.. will have to try them out with Sweet Pea. Thanks for all the suggestions!

Anonymous said...

Hickory Ridge grill. The owner and wait staff is always great with the kids.

Alison C said...

We love Tino's. A big bonus is that they take reservations!

Anonymous said...

I also have to consider serious food allergies with my youngest (which unfortunately is becoming much more common in younger children) by far, Noodles and Company and Red Robin are the best for us and take our allergies very seriously. Panera is good too.

I will say it's not much atmosphere, but my kids LOVE Grille Chick'n Pollo. Beans, rice and chicken and they go nuts. The people that work there are very nice. No kids menu, but they will give us extra plates for sharing

Jill said...

Pub Dog! They're cool with our daughter running laps around the bar, and on nice days, we can go outside and see dogs! Daughter loves their soft pretzels.

And I agree with Columbia Alehouse, too. Good kid's menu, TVs, and they usually have Magnadoodles for the kids to play with!

Victoria GastroPub is good, too--when our daughter was really young, they gave her a cotton bib with "More Poutine, please" on it!

Alison said...

We like taking our 3 year old to Pasta Blitz. She's done well there every since she was very small. They bring the food to you table (usually super quickly), have a kids menu, and what kid doesn't like cheese pizza?

Vicky said...

Our 2 year old loves Pazani in Elkridge. Good food for the grownups, very friendly owner.

Kevin said...

Panera has a decent kids menu. Staff is friendly and the food is mostly made free of trans fats, artificial colors and antibiotic free chicken.

Nina said...

I think it also depends on the toddler. My son (now 5), would be at home at the Oval Room at any age. My daughter is a holy terror who only now (nearing 3) has become civilized. Here's our list:

- Sushi Sono. It's been my kids' favorite since they started solid food. To say that the staff is accommodating does not take it far enough - the staff is amazing with kids, and King, the chef and owner, loves children, has made sushi with my children's favorite ingredients, cuts extra cucumber flowers for my daughter, and they will do a bowl of tofu or rice or pretty much anything else your kid will eat. It's not a run around place, but there's something about Sono's staff and atmosphere that makes kids want to behave - and we've taken other kids there as well.

- Royal Taj. Most Indian restaurants love kids, they really, really love kids. They will modify anything, and if you do the buffet instead, it's so fast in and out - and they're great about bringing pint sized lassis.

- Victoria. Seriously, 10 am Saturday or Sunday is the baby brunch. Good kids menu, crayons, and fast service.

- Alehouse. Good kids menu.

- Azul 17. GREAT kids menu (beyond great kids menu) with real food. Aqua frescas. Guac that can be there within seconds. The amazing cow painting.

- The Burger Joint then Tutti Fruit for dessert.

- Stanford Grill will do a bunch of half-portion half-priced things for the kid's menu.

- Coal Fire! Followed by Cold Stone.