If you’ve ever been to a restaurant with a toddler and maybe waited a little too long for food, you understand the importance of having some toys for restaurants on hand. And if you're anything like me, you try your best to limit screentime.
My first daughter was excellent at restaurants, I never had to distract or entertain her. However, my second is a whole different story.
And two young children at a restaurant is a whole new ballgame. There have been some rough times at restaurants where I've had to resort to a screen (cue the gasps) to keep my sanity.
So, I started collecting toys and activities that I could keep aside solely for restaurants (or long car rides). I keep them in a bin, up on a shelf near our door.
Throwing two or three things in the diaper bag on the way out the door. I try to change up what I bring so they always seem new and exciting.
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What are the challenges of family-style dining with toddlers?
As adults, we can become impatient with long wait times for our food, so it's unreasonable to expect toddlers to be patient in these same situations.
Even sometimes waiting for the check to be brought over can be stressful. You can never predict how long you'll be waiting so it's best to be prepared.
Noise (sensory issues)
Sometimes busy, crowded restaurants can be loud, and overwhelming. The loud voices, music playing, TV screens, bright lights, even smells can cause sensory overload.
This is common with children with Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, and ADHD. However, sensory overload can happen with any child.
I'm a believer that boredom can be good for a child. However, a bored child at a restaurant is just asking for trouble.
Sitting in a chair, waiting, and surrounded by adults is not exciting for a child any age, let alone a toddler or preschooler.
Is all this worth the trouble?
While taking toddlers to restaurants can be stressful, family meals are incredibly important.
A study by the University of Montreal found that children of families who ate meals together are “more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits”. You can read more about that study here.
But that's just one study, there are numerous studies showing the short and long-term benefits of family meals.
For toddlers, it helps encourage speech and language development, as well as healthy eating habits.
Check out this article from Fitness Blender listing several studies regarding the benefits of family meals.
Eating out at restaurants teaches children social skills, flexibility and exposes them to different foods and people. Getting them involved with paying the bill teaches math skills.
So, we're here to help make family meals out more enjoyable.
A few tips for dining out with kids
- Bring light snacks. Just in case the food takes longer than expected and you have a hangry child.
- Bring noise-blocking headphones. For when you're in a noisy restaurant and have a child that gets sensory overload.
- Bring things to do (see our toys for restaurants list below).
- Order children's meals when the server takes your drink order. Get their food order in as soon as possible to prevent waiting time, or order appetizers.
- Make sure the restaurant is kid friendly. A kids menu on their website is a perfect way to tell.
The Top 15 Toddler Toys For Restaurants
1. Crayola Dry Erase Travel Pack
Both my 1-year-old and 3-year-old love this, and it keeps them busy for a while and encourages creativity and fine motor development.
2. Magnetic Building Blocks
Such as Magna-Quibix (the cube version of MagnaTiles) or Tegu blocks. I store our Magna-Quibix in a small metal tin so they can use them right in the tin at the restaurant.
3. Travel Magna Doodle
You can't go wrong with this classic.
4. Reusable Stickers
If your child is good about keeping stickers to the paper, you can do regular stickers and paper instead.
5. Plus Plus Blocks
These are really cool connecting blocks, and perfect for travel. They come in two different sizes and have many different sets. Great for the child who is in the connecting schema.
6. Magnetic Tangram Puzzle
This is a great STEM activity for developing problem-solving and spatial awareness.
7. Crayola Color Wonder Markers.
These are perfect for the child who likes to draw off the paper. You can get blank sheets to encourage process art.
8. Scavenger Hunt
These from Thought-Spot are small and perfect for travel, or get creative and make your own restaurant-themed game.
9. Water Drawing Pad
You can go with a Water Wow set or get a blank water drawing pad such as this one.
10. Wood Lacing Toys
Great fine motor skill activity.
These are fun for all ages!
12. Jumbo Nuts and Bolts
This Skoolzy set is the perfect travel size and comes with a bag! To find more Montessori-related nuts and bolts toys, check out this article.
13. Tic Tac Toe
Someone gave my 3-year-old this travel set and it keeps her busy just putting the small dots on numbers.
14. Scratch Sheets
A fun art activity that can be great for older kids as well.
15. Guest Check Pads
My 3-year-old is really into pretend play right now, so a friend bought her this set from eeBoo that comes with menus and a pad to take orders. But you can also buy these guest check pads to play with.
Your child can pretend to take orders from the restaurant's menu. At home, you can use them to model and practice restaurant etiquette.
Having a handful of these toys for restaurants on hand will truly be a lifesaver. Not only are they fun and entertaining, but they're also educational!
They inspire creativity, encourage problem-solving, and develop fine motor skills and spatial awareness.
Hopefully, this list will help you enjoy meals out with your kids! Do you have any more awesome toys to add to our list?