How To Entertain A Toddler At A Restaurant
Toddler Meet Restaurant
There comes a point in toddler-parenthood where you feel brave enough to take a stab at eating in a restaurant with your little one.
Maybe your babysitter is unavailable or you just really need to eat out. Heck, maybe your child has improved their behavior to the extent that this trip seems reasonable.
We recently reached this point with our toddler.
Before heading out, I tried to prepare by researching online for ideas on how to keep a toddler entertained at a restaurant, the results were disappointing.
Some articles had the audacity to instruct reconsidering going out in the first place. Others offered the most unfitting toy ideas for restaurants like Play-Do. Blue putty wasn't the topping I was dreaming about for my burger.
So here are a list of actually-plausible ideas for keeping a toddler entertained in a sit-down restaurant.
Self-Contained, Durable Toys
Any toy that will be leaving the house needs to be two things: self-contained and durable. Self-contained because you don't want a hundred pieces to keep track of. Durable so it can withstand the bumps of the road.
This list can be close to endless, but here are some of our favorites:
- Busy Board - Busy board is the classic collection of multiple Montessori activities. The board's elements can vary so be sure to choose one of the fun variety.
- Puzzle - When buying a puzzle for the purpose of restaurant-use, be sure to keep the pieces very limited.
- Lacing Board - While a lacing board does seem a tad too educational for a kid to have fun, surprisingly children enjoy the challenge of stringing.
- Baby Doll - If your child enjoys imaginary play with baby dolls, a restaurant is just as good as any other place to play with one. In fact, it may be better because your child "educating" their baby about restaurants will set the correct frame of mind in their head as well.
- Magnetic Drawing Board - These boards offer the thrill of creativity with zero mess and very few parts. Downside is the limited colors, i.e. one. If you're the more ambitious type, we've got actual markers in the next section.
- Pop Fidget Toy - Although the fad of Pop-Its kind-of died down, little kids still seem to be enamored by them. They come in all shapes and sizes so choose one in your kid's favorite color.
- Children's Camera - I am shocked by the affordability of the cameras linked above. When I was a child these could've gone for over $200. Yes, cameras are technically technology but the lack of love we have for giving young children tech, is mostly reserved for smartphones, tablets and TV. A camera can teach a child all sorts of valuable skills like creativity, timing and cooperation.
- Fat Brain Toys - The bright colors, unique shapes and interesting functions of Fat Brain Toys have always been a favorite of our littles. Just be sure to choose ones that aren't too big or have too many pieces.
We've already written a full review for these useful markers. Our conclusion of 4.3 stars out of 5 will tell you that we are fans.
In a nutshell, these markers allow for typical toddler art projects. Except, they only work on a specific type of paper. So you won't need to worry about your child coloring on the tables or chairs of the restaurant you're visiting.
From experience, these markers worked wonders while waiting for our food to be served at a restaurant.
Our kids can play with them by themselves for 5-10 minutes, but when we join in with them, making the coloring more fun, that number can be stretched to 20-25 minutes.
Before heading to the restaurant, pack some of your child's favorite books. Our restaurant go-to is River Rose and the Magical Lullaby.
I'm not sure if our kids are unique, but we still don't know how many books we can read to them without them getting bored. We don't know because they've never gotten bored of reading with us.
Even if your kids do have some book-limit, chances are that if you're truly present in your reading and are engaging them by discussing the book's content and illustrations, you'll at least keep them busy until your food comes.
Play A Silly Rhyming Game
Though a public setting wouldn't be great for a boisterous rhyming song, like "Down By The Bay" that doesn't mean you can't play a fun rhyming game through speech.
Everybody else is trying to have a stimulating conversation, why shouldn't your toddler?
Start constructing a sentence using a noun, preferably one related to the restaurant you're in, and finish it with a silly rhyme.
For example: "You ordered crunchy nuggets, they may just bring you... punchy puppets!" "Pass me that pickle of crunch, I'd like a... tickle for lunch!"
Simply take turns having one person in the group choose something. Without sharing what that thing is, have them offer a hint or two. Everybody else needs to guess what they're thinking of.
For example: "I spy something with four legs and blue!" "Is it that table?" "No, that's not blue." "Is it that chair?" "Yes! Ok, now its your turn!"
Request Early Food Serving
Food is a great way to still any potential drama. This is true with adults and even more true with toddlers.
Certain restaurants will wait for all the dishes in an order to be ready before serving, so they can all be served at once. If this is the case, you can try requesting that the dishes that are ready be served immediately.
Additionally, you can explain to the waiter your toddler-situation, and ask if they have any small munchies that they can serve right away, in order to keep the little one occupied.
Many restaurants offer things like, pickles, olives, veggies and bread, that can be served on a moments notice.
Oh, and drinks are always available.
Go For A Walk
Going for a walk can be an excellent way to kill time until your food is ready.
This can be done outside if the weather allows for it, just make sure not to walk too far! Those little legs will need to walk your child back as well.
Also, if the restaurant is roomy enough, a short stroll can be taken inside the establishment itself. Stretch those legs, study the decor and see if there is anyone interesting to talk to!
Here's the elephant in the room.
Letting your child watch their favorite show on a phone or tablet, is the most obvious and the most unwholesome idea.
We would encourage you to try the other, aforementioned ideas, but this had to be mentioned.
In case the tantrums begin, it's comforting to know technology is an option you can fall back on.
Good luck enjoying your meal out! If any fellow-diners aren't understanding of your situation, don't be too hard on yourself.