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15 Best Screen-Free Toddler Toys for Restaurants +Dining Tips!

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.

toddler restaurant toys pinterest image.

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What are the challenges of family-style dining with toddlers?

Wait times

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.

Boredom

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.

bored child without toys at restaurants, sitting on stressed mother's lap.

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.
child playing with stickers at a restaurant. Stickers are one of the great toys for restaurants.

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.

Sale
Crayola Washable Dry Erase Travel Pack,…
  • ART ON THE GO! Create, erase & create again, on the go or…
  • KID-FRIENDLY DRY ERASE: Crayola Dry-Erase tools allow kids to…
  • CREATIVE PROJECTS: Whether you're creating a landscape…

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.

6 Piece Tegu Pocket Pouch Prism Magnetic…
  • The perfect toy for building on-the-go! Whether in the car,…
  • Brilliantly simple and premium heirloom-quality toy that will…
  • Curiously attractive and perfect for those seeking toys…

3. Travel Magna Doodle

You can't go wrong with this classic.

Cra-Z-Art Mini Magna Doodle
  • Easy to draw and erase
  • Special magnetic pen
  • Slide eraser

4. Reusable Stickers

If your child is good about keeping stickers to the paper, you can do regular stickers and paper instead.

Reusable Sticker Books for Kids, 3 Sets…
  • Handle Design & DIY Fun: The travel sticker book with portable…
  • Reusable Sticker Books for Kids 2-4: Includes 3 beautiful scenes…
  • Durable Toddler Sticker Book: Our removable stickers for kids…

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.

PLUS PLUS – Open Play Tube – 70…
  • Plus-Plus Blocks – Set of 70, Basic Colors

6. Magnetic Tangram Puzzle

This is a great STEM activity for developing problem-solving and spatial awareness.

Vanmor Travel Tangram Puzzle with 2 Sets…
  • ★ New Version with Colorful Answers Comes: You will receive 2…
  • ★ Travel Tangram Puzzle: 14 colorful magnetic blocks can meet…
  • ★ Safety Material: The magnetic travel games have Safety foam…

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.

Crayola Color Wonder Markers, Mess Free…
  • MESS FREE MARKERS: 10 Color Wonder Markers for no mess coloring.
  • COLOR WONDER: Color Wonder Inks will not show on skin, furniture,…
  • IT'S MAGIC: Watch as colors go from clear to magically appearing…

8. Scavenger Hunt

These from Thought-Spot are small and perfect for travel, or get creative and make your own restaurant-themed game.

Thought-Spot: Spot'em Toddler Scavenger…
  • 😍 Engaging Early Learning Experience: Spot'em Scavenger Hunt…
  • 🤪 ENCOURAGES ACTIVE PLAY: Players must shout “Spot'em!” as…
  • 🏠 INDOOR FUN: Perfect for indoor play, Spot'em Scavenger Hunt…

9. Water Drawing Pad

You can go with a Water Wow set or get a blank water drawing pad such as this one.

Sale
Melissa & Doug Water Wow! – Water Reveal…
  • 3-PACK OF WATER WOW! ACTIVITY PADS: This 3-pack of Melissa & Doug…
  • 4 REUSABLE PAGES: Each of these coloring-with-water books is a…
  • PROMOTES MULTIPLE SKILL DEVELOPMENT: Our water-painting books for…

10. Wood Lacing Toys

Great fine motor skill activity.

KLT Lacing Toy for Toddlers, Wooden…
  • 💖WOODEN LACING TOYS FOR KIDS- Fun thread toy set for your kids…
  • 🌈GREAT TOY FOR TRAVEL ROAD TRIP- These challenging and fun…
  • 💖 SAFE FOR KIDS-Wood lacing toy that is made of beech wood…

11. Squigz

These are fun for all ages!

Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set, 24…
  • Suction cup builders in 8 versatile shapes and colors
  • Stick them to each other and any smooth surface!
  • Perfect for ages 3 years and up; Made of 100% food-grade…

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.

Sale
Skoolzy Nuts and Bolts 12 Piece Toy…
  • TODDLER FINE MOTOR SKILLS TOYS: Use your fine motor muscles to…
  • ✅ GREAT FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS AGES 18 MONTHS+: These fun…
  • ROAD TRIP FIDGET TOY: PERFECT for ADHD, Autism, Calm or Stress…

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.

Take N Play — Anywhere Tic-Tac-Toe —…
  • CLASSIC GAME—Enjoy the simple game of Tic-Tac-Toe wherever you…
  • TRAVEL FRIENDLY—Take ‘N’ Play Anywhere games are perfect…
  • COMES WITH EVERYTHING YOU NEED—Magnetic pieces all fit nicely…
toys at restaurants: two toddlers playing with tic tac toe game at table.

14. Scratch Sheets

A fun art activity that can be great for older kids as well.

Mocoosy 60 Pcs Scratch Art Paper for…
  • Surprise Scratch Art Kits: Included 50 scratch papers (size: 7.2…
  • Safe & High Quality: Our scratch art paper made of nice quality…
  • Creative & Funny Set: Rainbow scratch paper set is a creative and…

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.

eeBoo: Best Pals' Diner Pretend Play…
  • Set Includes: 2 Menus, 2 Plates, 30 Guest Checks/Pad, Play Money…
  • Promotes Creativity And Imagination. Kids Will Love Pretending To…
  • For Ages 3 And Up

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?

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