So you've checked the train times, packed enough supplies for a small army and asked the children to put their shoes on at least five times. The last thing you need is to start worrying about making a packed lunch — half of which will no doubt end up squished in the bottom of your bag.
Here's our pick of great places to eat for children (and adults) near to some of London's big museums and attractions. We're not talking plastic cheese sandwiches and generic kids' menus — but good food that the whole family can enjoy together.
London Transport Museum
The London Transport Museum has to be every child's favourite museum in London at some stage. You can easily while away three or four hours inside and — because the ticket allows unlimited access for 12 months — you can pop out for lunch and then back in to see anything you missed.
A stone's throw from the London Transport Museum, and the bustle of Covent Garden, tucked away down the narrow, cobbled Maiden Lane, is Polpo. One of eight (six in London) Venetian bàcaro, it serves up small plates of Italian-inspired food to share. Service is efficient and the food tends to come out pretty quickly, which is always a plus when eating out with children. To appease grumbling tummies, order a couple of portions of the potato and parmesan crochette as soon as you arrive. The pizette and meatballs (with or without spaghetti) go down well with even the least adventurous of little diners. There are highchairs available if needed, but be sure to book in advance to guarantee a table.
Polpo, 6 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA
It isn't uncommon to see families with young children sitting side by side with the suited and booted entertaining clients over lunchtime at Sticks n Sushi. This Danish chain specialises in sushi and yakatori sticks, with plenty of vegetarian options too.
The menu is a bit like a glossy brochure that ordinarily would take you an hour to digest — but don’t let that put you off; the waiting staff are friendly and knowledgeable. The 'small portions small people' menu is really good value and includes a drink and the cutest chocolate fish. The comfy banquettes along the middle section of the restaurant are the best place to sit with smaller children (just ask when booking), and give a good view of what's going on to keep them entertained (for a few minutes at least).
Sticks n Sushi, 11 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8PY
If your children are at the 'can’t sit still for five minutes let alone for a whole meal' stage (we’ve all been there), then pick up sandwiches and cakes at Balthazar Boulangerie to take into the museum, or eat while watching the street performers in Covent Garden. You will need to sneak a whole apricot kouign-amann for yourself.
Balthazar Boulangerie, 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ
Science Museum, Natural History Museum and V&A
South Kensington, home to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, has always been a bit of a restaurant wasteland, with high street chains and below par sandwich shops. Things are starting to look up though.
The simple menu makes Honest Burger a good spot to grab a quick bite to eat when the 'hangry' stage has kicked in and patience is wearing a little thin. Choose from chicken, beef or veggie burgers, all served with Honest Burger’s signature rosemary salted chips. What we love about the children's menu here is that it offers exactly the same food as the standard menu, just in smaller portions, for half the price.
Honest Burger, 24 Thurloe Street, SW7 2LT
Situated halfway between South Kensington tube and the museums, this branch of Fernandez & Wells is the best (the only) place to stop off for fantastic coffee locally. Pick up epic sandwiches and savoury-filled croissants to take away or eat from the extended cured meat and cheese-focused menu in the (rather cramped) room through the back. If you're lucky you might just grab one of the pavement tables on the pedestrianised area at the front so the children can run up and down while you watch the world go by.
Fernandez & Wells, 8 Exhibition Road, SW7 2HF
Across the road in Casa Brindisa, which has been there for over a decade, you can also feast on plates of jamón and cheese. The ingredients here are the stars, as you'd expect, so stick to the simpler dishes which show them off. The bill can rack up quite quickly once you've ordered a few small plates though, especially if you let your children loose on the iberico ham.
Casa Brindisa, 7-9 Exhibition Road, SW7 2HE
Approaching London Zoo from the south and taking a leisurely stroll through Regent's Park is much more fun than the slightly shorter walk from Camden. You'll probably want to spend a whole day at the zoo, so it makes sense to pick up some food before you head in.
And there's one place above all we recommend you do it.
Honey & Spice is a food store/deli from the husband and wife team behind Honey & Co, Itamar and Sarit. It's the place to go to pick up a picnic. With salads, dips and sandwiches and a selection of freshly baked cakes and savoury pastries from over the road at Honey & Co (as well as more substantial dishes if you need something quick for dinner) there is plenty of choice to please everyone. There are a handful of seats at the back if you'd rather eat in, but they do fill up quickly.
Honey & Spice, 52 Warren Street, W1T 5NJ
Horniman Museum and Gardens
With its eclectic collection of stuffed animals and musical instruments, the Horniman Museum is great for children of all ages. But they really are missing a trick with the café, which has glorious views over the gardens and Victorian conservatory but is crying out for an overhaul. If you’re travelling by public transport to the Horniman, you'll most likely arrive into Forest Hill station, and this area is your best bet for eating close to the museum.
A short stroll from Forest Hill station, BOnA serves up excellent sourdough pizzas from their wood-fired oven, making this a great stop on the way to or from the Horniman Museum (or even worth a little diversion if you're not travelling through Forest Hill). Chewy crusts, plentiful toppings and a genuinely warm welcome ensue. Children love watching their pizzas being made whilst they wait.
BOnA, 25 Dartmouth Road, SE23 3HN (closed on Mondays)
Just over the hill from the Horniman Museum (10-15 minutes on foot) in Sydenham is the charming 161 Food + Drink. This small neighbourhood wine bar is popular with food-loving parents during the day, when they serve up plates of simple, well-sourced, homemade food from the tiny open kitchen.
The menu changes daily, but you can expect homemade baked beans on toast, beetroot falafel, epic toasties and, at the weekends, freshly baked sweet and savoury scrolls. The coffee is good too.
161 Food + Drink, 161 Kirkdale, SE26 4QJ (closed Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday daytime)
V&A Museum of Childhood
Coined by some as the most child-friendly café in London, anyone with children in tow will feel right at home in here. In a picturesque spot, overlooking the lake in east London's Victoria Park, it's what every park café should be (but sadly isn’t).
Run by the people behind Elliot's in Borough Market, the food is good — there’s an all day breakfast menu, including eggs on toast in various guises, breakfast sandwiches and the full works (veggie too), plus lunchtime salads and sandwiches. Homemade sourdough, well-sourced ingredients, meat from The Ginger Pig and great Square Mile coffee top it off.
Pavilion Café, Crown Gate West, Victoria Park, E9 7DE
If you are in the enviable position of having children who eat anything and everything, then treat yourselves to the set lunch menu at Paradise Garage. It's definitely one for the more adventurous eaters, with dishes like pollock, Norfolk Peer potatoes, seaweed & pied bleu, or Welsh lamb, smoked potato gratin, runner beans & snails. At £18 for two courses and a glass of wine, it is outstanding value for the quality of food.
Paradise Garage, 254 Paradise Row, E2 9LE (closed Monday and Tuesday lunchtimes)
With so much to see and do along the South Bank you could start out from Waterloo in the morning and head home from London Bridge in the evening. Take in the big sights like the London Eye or the London Aquarium, amble along the side of the river to watch the skateboarders at the Southbank Skatepark and then stop for lunch.
Yes, we know that Wahaca is a pretty big chain now, but they serve up some really tasty food, which is slim pickings on the South Bank itself. The space is fun — built out of eight recycled shipping containers — and the atmosphere bright and buzzy. If your children can handle spice, bypass the kids' menu and order a selection of small plates from across the menu to share.
The plantain tacos and the crispy fried sweet potato with smoky caramelised mojo de ajo are top of our list. For smaller children, go for the 'build your own tacos' which should keep them busy long enough for you to enjoy a beer or two.
Wahaca, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX
The coffee at the Switch House Espresso Bar is pretty decent and they serve giant-sized babycinos. The space is open and light, making it a good pit-stop to catch your breath for five minutes.
Switch House Espresso Bar, Switch House, Level 2, Tate Modern, SE1 9TG
Padella, from the duo behind Trullo, opened in spring 2016 to daily queues around the block for its freshly made pasta. The menu is short with a handful of starters, six or seven different pasta dishes and a pudding or two, but the pasta is the main act.
Yes you may have to queue, but if you make your way there a little before noon or 5pm (both of which are often the times we hear the cries "I’m hungry!") then you should be fine. With prices starting at around £5.50 for a plate of hand rolled pasta, it's an affordable option too. The portions aren't huge — perfect for a child really — so the adults may want to order an extra dish to share.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TQ (closed Sunday dinner)