How to Keep Kids Busy and Happy in a Restaurant

We eat out a lot when we’re traveling. Some because we like to try new foods and new places the locals recommend. Mostly, it’s because it is easier, but sometimes, I instantly regret our decision to dine away from our RV or hotel because the kids are loud, antsy, and overall not interested in anything on the menu. And that isn’t a picky eater thing. We’re blessed with three great eaters, but sometimes, they just don’t want to eat out, period. So, after many unsuccessful attempts (and sadly, some wasted food), we finally found the secret formula to keep them entertained and more willing to eat when we go out.

I created a restaurant busy bag.

I know, {insert eye roll}, but it actually worked. We do our best to keep phones and devices off the dinner table, and I wanted an option for when the kids have had enough.

To prove that this helps, I’ll share a bit about our late lunch today. We went out with a few family members we haven’t seen in years. I knew it would be a long meal, and I didn’t want the kids glued to cartoons just so the adults could chat. Usually, my kids are very talkative and happy to be part of the conversation, but I knew we all wanted to catch up. So, I stopped at Walmart on my way over and filled a small drawstring backpack with a few items I thought might interest them and give us an hour or so together.

I’m happy to report; we enjoyed over two hours of adult conversation.

Yes, my hubby helped with a small LEGO set (but only for 10 minutes), and yes, we dined outside, which always makes things a little easier, but overall, the restaurant busy bag did the trick.

Here’s what I packed.

Kinetic Sand – Walmart had mini sandcastle shapes filled with rainbow sand. Each one is a two-pack, and I dumped one out on an appetizer plate for each kid. It was a big hit, and the sand is so easy to clean up. When the kids were ready to move onto something else, I dumped it all back in and threw it in the bag.

Mini LEGO Set – My son loves the little $5 LEGO sets, especially cars. I let him grab one on the way out, and my husband protested because he knew my 5-year-old would need help. He was right, and I was wrong. There, I said it. But, it did keep my little guy entertained while we waited for our appetizer. Next time, I’ll pack a small reusable bag with a variety of pieces. That way, he won’t need help following the directions.

Magnetic Puzzle – we have a wooden puzzle similar to this at home, but I like the more expensive magnetic option for outings. It is easier to pack, and the pieces stay put. My oldest daughter loves these, and she’ll make fun shapes for quite a while. My second cousin got in on the puzzling too (just because), which made her day.

Play Dough – We grabbed a play dough set with three small tubs of dough, a few tools and a carrying case. My 3-year-old is a play dough addict, and she’s always happy when we bring some along. It is a bit harder to clean up, but it is still a great option.

Colored pencils and a coloring book – recently, we’ve found that restaurants aren’t offering crayons and paper like they used to. It may be a COVID-19 thing, but they’re getting harder and harder to come by. Now, I pack my own. My kids are 5, 5 and 3, and I find they’re more interested in game-style coloring books than simple coloring pages. They like to find the differences and circle all the…you get the picture. A straightforward coloring page rarely keeps their attention for long.

And, that’s it. Everything in the bag cost $40 (including a puzzle we didn’t open), and we’re planning to leave it in the van and only pull it out at restaurants. I’m interested to see if it works multiples times or if they lose interest. Comment below and let me know what you use to keep your little ones entertained when you need some adult food and conversation.

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