Taking children out to eat in restaurants can sometimes be a bit of a chore, at times we ask ourselves why we bother when they start to misbehave.
Having said that, dining out can be a lovely treat for the whole family, offering a great opportunity for children to experience eating out in public rather than at home. An added bonus for parents, taking the stress away from a meal preparation and no dishes to wash up afterwards.
The problem most parents face when taking children to restaurants, particularly youngsters, is the wait time between ordering a meal and eating, which can sometimes seem like a lifetime for restless little people with no concept of patience.
At this point, distraction is the key, offering activities that can be done at the table, alleviating the chance of an embarrassing child meltdown.
The following list of ideas have all been tried and tested by my own family during restaurant outings:
1. Chalk Drawing on Reusable Chalk Mat
Reusable chalk mats are made with fabric and Mexican oil cloth. Chalk pictures, word games, or perhaps a game of hangman for older kids could be played. Once an activity is finished, the chalk mat is wiped clean ready for the next task. Chalk mats can be folded and stored in a handbag.
I make my own reusable chalk mats, using fabric and Mexican oil cloth purchased online, which I sew together using my sewing machine. If you are not able to make your own, there are chalk mats available to buy through online sites such as eBay or etsy.
2. Memory Game
This is a fun game that can be done without the need to bring extra things with you. Find a few handful of items near to you, either in your bag or on the table, let your children study all of the items on display for a few minutes, then get them to close their eyes. Remove a few items, and the kids have to try and work out what has been taken away.
3. A Bag of 'New' Op Shopped Toys
Quite often, you'll find little toys in op shops either for free, or for minimal cost. Top up a bag with a handful of 10c op shopped toys, and let your children play with them during wait time. 'New' toys are usually always a winner with little kids.
Op Shopped Toys
4. The iPad or iPhone
I have to be honest, the iPad has revolutionised our restaurant outings. In times of potential meltdown, particularly when we wish to extend our dining experience a little longer, the iPad does come out for some electronic activity time.
There is an article here on weekendnotes which may provide some ideas for iPad child app recommendations suitable for young kids.
Whether you agree with the idea or not, there are many suitable children's games that can be played on parent's iPhones or Android mobile phones too.
5. Dot-to-Dot or Colouring-In Books
Prior to the existence of electronic distraction, a packet of crayons and a colouring-in or dot-to-dot book would work just fine as a table activity for children in a restaurant. There are many inexpensive jumbo colouring-in books available to buy from two dollar stores and supermarkets, that can still be used to keep children busy today.
Do you have additional recommendations that will keep the children entertained when dining out?