Eleven tips to keep kids occupied at the table
1. Feed your kids before you go. Toddlers and preschoolers get hungry often. Feeding young kids a snack (especially fruits or vegetables) at home or on the car ride before heading to the restaurant minimizes later hunger tantrums and balances out most “kids meals” devoid of fruits and vegetables.
2. Visit restaurants at off peak times. Waiting in line to be seated and waiting a long time for food to be served can make even adults cranky. My family loves going out for breakfast. Since one of our favorite diners is notorious for long lines out the door on Saturday and Sunday mid-morning we get up and out on the early side, avoiding the crowds and often getting seated immediately.
3. Choose a restaurant with an attraction. By attraction I do not mean theme restaurants but rather a place with something special or unique that may be of interest to your child and fun to talk about. Restaurants we love have had these attractions: model trains on display, a view (of the city, the beach or a busy street), Star Wars action figures in the bathroom, walls decorated with license plates, a fish tank or live music.
3. Order immediately. Once seated, order drinks, appetizer, and/or a breadbasket from waiter or waitress so even if the rest of the meal takes awhile to arrive the kids will have had something to curb their appetite. If I know what the kids are eating for their meal I order it along with the drinks.
4. Bring Art Supplies. We always bring small notebooks, pencils, or crayons since there is no guarantee the restaurant will stock these items. Even easier, bring a mini magnetic doodle screen with attached pen and easy-slide eraser. Kids can doodle, play tic tac toe or hangman without running out of paper or losing the pen.
5. …or “New” Toys. I often stashed a “new” toy for my toddler or preschooler (bought new, swapped with a friend or not played with recently) in my bag to pull out after we place our order. While the child discovers or rediscovers the toy, parents have a few moments for themselves. (Easy to pack toys include: Legos, Matchbox cars, mini figures, and paper dolls.)
6. ….or books for all ages. Some children prefer looking at books or reading. Depending on the age of the child bring along board books, picture books or chapter books.
7. Try storytelling. Telling stories at the table can engage the whole family in dialog and listening. To create a group story, have one person start the tale: “Once upon a time there was a small house on top of a big mountain…” Then, go around the table and have each member take a turn telling a part of the story. Stop when the food arrives. Art supplies are handy for the kids who prefer drawing their part.
8. Play Games. Bring along a portable game – small and magnetic work well at restaurants – or play a verbal game like “I Spy.” Say, “I spy a person with a hat,” and see if the kids can find someone in the restaurant with a hat.
9. Create a challenge. Play “Guess how many minutes it will take the ice cubes in my drink to melt?” game (also good for practicing counting) or “How many people do you think can fit in this room?”
10. Take a walk. It’s not unusual for kids to get restless sitting for long periods of time without moving around. If you know the wait for food will be long or your child is prone to restlessness take a walk with your child (before, during or after the meal) and explore: the bathroom, look at artwork, peak in the kitchen, or go outside.
This article was first printed in the April 2011 issue of SO Rhode Island.