UPDATED: MARCH 26, 2020
Do you miss dining out every once in a while? After having my now toddler, we avoided going to the restaurants because little people can’t sit for too long. I started wondering, how do I get my 2 year old to behave in a restaurant? That’s when I decided to put together a toddler restaurant kit to keep toddlers entertained and busy while dining out at a restaurant.
It’s inevitable, life changes when you have kids. ALOT.
But that doesn’t mean you should stop everything you used to love to do. It’s more about getting creative and finding ways to do the things you loved to do while keeping your adorable monster entertained.
If you’re nervous about taking your toddler or young child to a restaurant because of the inevitable toddler tantrum restaurant meltdown, I have some ideas!
Think about this from your toddler’s point of view: it’s boring! They have to sit still, in a confined space and remain fairly quiet. This pretty much goes against everything your toddler was designed to do.
So, how do you keep a 1 year old busy at a restaurant? How do you avoid that toddler tantrum that has every person in the restaurant giving you the stink eye?
Easy you just have to be prepared before taking toddlers out. Make your own diy toddler restaurant kit or busy bag to keep them occupied while you enjoy your meal.
Fill it with all the best toddler restaurant toys, games and activities and you’ll be set! I’ll help you with that below.
Essentially you’re creating a toddler restaurant survival kit (and parents) if you will.
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Avoiding Toddler Tantrums In Restaurants
I used to avoid eating out with my little guy as much as possible because I found it such a chore.
I much preferred getting take out and spending time at home. But, you can’t avoid restaurants forever.
Eventually, somebody is going to have a birthday or some other get together somewhere that you’ll have to attend and you just might have to take your toddler too.
The few times we took our little guy out, he would sit in the high chair for a little bit but within maybe 15-20 minutes he would get bored and attempt to either climb out or reach for utensils to play with.
Obviously, I didn’t want him to take a fork to the eye so I would quickly snatch it away and then boom!
The shrieking, the water works, the stares, and the mutters would ensue.
I vowed never to return!
Eventually, one such birthday event did occur and yes, we had to take our toddler too.
However, this one didn’t result in me or my son crying. That was because this genius mum had made mini loot bag things to keep the toddlers occupied while the moms were catching up.
I couldn’t believe it! Such a simple idea but so genius. My toddler spent the afternoon totally engrossed by his new goodies and only ever looked up to take a few bites of food.
That’s when I decided to make my own toddler restaurant survival kit that we could use wherever we need to go.
As a bonus, I’ve included a free printable matching game for the kids at the bottom of this post.
Toddler Restaurant Essentials
You know your child best, think about the things they like to do. You’ll want to include a variety of different things because a toddler’s attention span isn’t very long.
Think about different sensory play items, different activities and maybe some favorite books as well.
You’ll also need to consider how you’d like to store those items.
I’ve seen some people use a metal lunch box because it can also act as a magnet board. Such a great idea!
I opted for a back pack because it’s more spacious and can fit more things, plus my little guy can wear it himself so its one less thing to shove into his diaper bag.
What Should You Use To Store Your Toddler Restaurant Kit
As I mentioned before, you’ll need something sturdy to contain your child’s restaurant kit. Something that can be reused over and over so I would avoid using things that could rip or tear easily like a plastic bag.
Think about ease of use and transporting. If you don’t want another thing to hang on to, use something toddler friendly like a back pack, draw string bag, metal lunch box, pencil case or canvas tote with a zipper that your child can carry themselves.
I’ve even seen some moms using their leftover baby wipes container.
Here’s a few that we thought would work well. Just click the title to shop the link if you see something that catches your eye.
What To Put In Your Busy Bag: Toddler Restaurant Toys
Now comes the fun part! What will you fill your toddler’s kit with? Your toddler’s busy bag should have lots of things that will keep them preoccupied without creating too much of a mess to clean up later.
Think toddler restaurant activities and toys that are small enough to fit in your kit, fairly quiet and engaging like books, puzzles, coloring sheets, small toys etc.
Even if you have a few kinder surprise toys, that would be a great addition too. You can keep them in their eggs for easy storage.
Toddler Books To Add to Your Restaurant Busy Bag
Here are a few of our favorite books to add to our restaurant kit. We try to find miniature versions of books for easy storage.
Small board books or soft books also work great for this. We used a bunch of miniature books that we got for free from McDonald’s happy meals along with a few other favorites like these:
Toddler Restaurant Activity Books
Also be sure to include a few activity based books in your kit to keep your toddler busy and in their seat when at a restaurant.
This will depend on their age but generally I find coloring books, simple counting, alphabet, connect the dots, types of books work well.
It should be fun but not too challenging that they get bored and give up.
Some books are even “wipe clean” versions so you can use them over and over again. Genius! Here’s a few I thought looked like a good fit:
RELATED POST: Best Baby Board Books To Add To Your Library
Puzzles For Your Child’s Restaurant Kit
Another great idea for your restaurant kit are simple puzzles like a jigsaw or peg puzzle.
With older toddlers you can do an easy 10-15 piece puzzle as well.
Just try to find something that is age appropriate for their level. I like to store mine in a Ziploc bag to keep all the pieces together.
I prefer ones with just a few larger pieces so your not always worried about losing them.
Some come in little travel cases to make it easier like a few of these:
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The Best Toddler Toys For Your Restaurant Survival Kit
Now, add some of the best toys to distract toddlers and keep them entertained.
You can simply add a few of their favorite toys from home or pick up a few small toys to keep in your busy bag permanently so you don’t have to remember to pack and unpack them every time.
Plus it keeps that “newness” factor so they won’t get bored so quick. This one will again depend on what your toddler likes best but I’ll offer a few of our restaurant kit must-haves.
I love a magnet doodle or etch and sketch because you can reuse it over and over plus it acts as a magnet board if you want to play with other magnetic toys like alphabet magnets.
Here’s a list of some things you can add:
- Etch and Sketch
- Hot Wheels Race Cars
- Magnetic Letters or toys
- Toddler Lego Blocks
- Animal Water Game
- Plastic Eggs
- Small Plastic Animal toys – great for sorting activities
- Cards (Bonus: I’ve included a free printable matching game with cars at the bottom of this post!)
RELATED POST: Toddler Approved Non- Toy Gift Guide
Toddler Dining Out Essentials
Now that your toddler’s entertainment is taken care of, let’s not forget they require a whole bunch of other things when it comes to the actual eating part. Will your child be sharing your meal or do they need their own toddler/baby food? You child may simply not like what the restaurant offers so it’s always great to have some back-up snacks on hand so you don’t have a hangry 2-year-old tyrant. Here’s a few extra things to keep on hand for a smooth dining experience with your toddler:
- Toddler Eating Utensils
- Toddler Bib (My favs are the silicone bibs with the pouch at the
bottom to catch any messes)
- Sippy Cup (love the Munchkin Trainer Cups- no spills!)
- Travel Hand Sanitizer
- Toddler Snacks/Meal
RELATED POST: The BEST Sleep Sacks and Wearable Blankets For Toddlers
Tips For Dining Out With Toddlers
Now, on to some tips to keep in mind when you’re dining out with toddlers.
You can do a few things ahead of time to help your toddler prepare for their next restaurant outing and hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing.
Practice At Home– it can be difficult for toddlers to sit for long periods of time, especially when they’re not use to doing so.
Practice dining together as a family with your toddler in the high chair. You can try out a few toys or activities to see how long they can sit for while you enjoy dinner.
Try reinforcing good behavior and manners at the dining table with a little treat or reward- my guy loves stickers!
Pick A Family Friendly Restaurant– this one sounds like a no brainer but it’s always a great idea to call ahead and check whether they offer high chairs, a kids menu and any other kid friendly features.
These types of places already anticipate the needs of families and usually other guest are also aware that there will likely be kids there. Less awkward and angry stares.
Go With Your Toddler’s Flow– when you’re initially starting out, you may want to try to keep the outings as short as possible- like main course only. They may still be adjusting to this whole thing so watch for their cues. If they’re getting fussy, be ready to ask for a to-go box and get outta there!
Feed Toddler BEFORE Going– if at all possible, feed your toddler before you head out. Sometimes, they may not have what your kiddo likes. If they’re already fed, I don’t worry too much about what’s on the kids menu and I’ll usually bring a little snack in case they just want to join in on dining.
If my kiddo is well rested and fed before we head out, I can almost be sure we won’t have any major meltdowns.
Parents has some more great tips for enjoying dining out with your toddler if you’re looking for some more advice.
Enjoy Dining Out With Your Toddler
That’s it! You are now officially ready and fully equipped to handle dining out with your toddler and avoiding those toddler tantrums at the restaurant.
Get back to enjoying those things you used to love.
It’s a little different now but it can be done, you just have to be prepared.
This kit is super versatile and can be your toddler busy bag wherever you go.
Perfect for traveling or those long weddings that kids can’t sit through.
Do you have any awesome tips or tricks for dining out with your kids?
I’d love to hear about them in the comments.