Going out to eat is great: it’s a nice way to take a break from cooking, hang out with friends, and try out new restaurants or revisit some of your favorite neighborhood haunts. What’s not to love?! Well, if you have young kids, you might be thinking, “Uh, there is very little to love about dining out.” We hear you!
Toddlers and young children aren’t known for their patience or ability to sit still for long periods of time. Inevitably, you end up sitting in the restaurant as your child throws a tantrum, all because the restaurant ran out of mac and cheese.
To help make dining out a bit less stressful, we put together a list of some of our favorite toys that can distract your young one while you wait. Don’t worry, we made sure to focus on items that don’t have small pieces and won’t make lots of noise. We recommend putting them in your to-go bag and reserving them for just these kinds of occasions.
The Water Wow comes in all different themes, from letters and numbers to farm animals and dinosaurs. All you need to do is fill the “pen” with a bit of water and your child can color in the pages. They dry after a few minutes and can be used over and over again. (We found they generally last at least a few months, depending on frequency of use.) These are truly a lifesaver when it comes to dining out with kids.
Just like Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow, Crayola’s Color Wonder is completely mess-free. They come in many styles (including plain paper), but your best bet is to get one of the character-themed books like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Peppa Pig, Disney, or Hello Kitty. The markers only color on the paper (they’re water-based) so there’s no mess on any surface. That means your child’s hands (and every piece of furniture in the restaurant) will remain stain-free.
Etch-a-Sketch has come a long way since its original version where you could basically only draw straight lines and squares. This updated version comes with an attached stylus pen that makes drawing different shapes much easier. It also comes with two stamps that include four shapes. As with the original, you can shake it up and down when you’re done with a drawing and want to start fresh.
Puzzles are a great tool to build hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, and problem-solving. We love that these sets come with four options packed in one tidy box. Melissa & Doug’s puzzles come in a variety of themes and are geared towards children 3-6 years old, depending on the design.
Children and adults alike love stickers of all shapes and sizes. Plus, there are so many sticker book options now, so you can easily find something for anyone at any age. Choose food-related stickers to go along with the dining-out theme. Or plump for reusable sticker sets that can be used again and again. (Just try not to get too many stickers on the table or chairs.)
This magnetic doodle board comes with a stylus pen so that your child can easily create any design. Then, just use your finger to “erase” the drawing and start again. In addition to the original design, they offer a letter or number Magnatab so your child has the opportunity to practice writing both.
There are a lot of different options in this category, including Kindergarten activity books, Boredom Busters, sticker by numbers and guessing games. These are an especially good option if there are two or more kids going out to eat with you: they can quiz each other while you wait for apps! See? Dining out with kids just got a whole lot easier (and educational to boot)!
When I’m not hanging out with my three-year-old and husband in Brooklyn, I’m busy writing stories for Mamas Uncut and managing PR + Marketing for Magnolia Bakery, based in New York City. On weekends, you can usually find me at a local park or playground pushing my daughter on the swings, “researching” the best almond croissants in Park Slope or launching into impromptu family dance parties at home, the sidewalk or, every once in awhile, a restaurant bathroom. I’m still trying to master the whole parenting thing, but I have learned that copious amounts of coffee, humor and humility are involved on a daily basis.
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