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Toddler Activities To Keep Your Kids Busy At Restaurants WITHOUT Tablets Or Phones

Eating out doesn't have to include a toddler tantrum. Try these tried-and-tested tips from other parents, next time you are having a family meal

Try these tech-free toddler activities to make dining out an enjoyable experience for everyone.

As soon as you sit down at your table, your little one gets fidgety and doodles all over the menu. Or perhaps you’re only halfway through your meal before he flings his sippy cup at an unlucky diner. You need so many distracting toddler activities when you eat out with children that sometimes it feels more like a playdate than a meal.

Small children can’t grasp the concept of having to sit and wait for their meal at a restaurant; any wait is always much too long. And that can lead to toddler tantrums at the table, and frazzled parents. You don’t always want to resort to using your tablet or smartphone to keep your little one occupied while you wait for the meal to arrive (though, we totally get it, sometimes there’s no choice!)

So to make mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone in the family, we asked parents with young kids to share affordable toddler activities and tips and tricks they use to enjoy a peaceful restaurant meal. You’re sure to get some ideas for your next family outing.

1. One trick at a time

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“Our boy loves to eat on his own, so letting him feed himself is the best entertainment for him. But when he’s done with his food, and we’re not, that’s when other tricks come in – ice in a cup can keep him busy for 10 minutes, straws for five more, pen and paper for a further five. By then, one of us will be done with our meal and we can let him out of the high chair and still be able to keep an eye on him.”
– Jelyn Chew, Stay-Home Mum 

2. ‘Play’ with your food

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“My boy enjoys playing pretend, so I cut out different ‘foods’ from coloured paper or foam before we leave. Or I’ll pack a few make-believe food items. Then, at the restaurant, he can play with them on a clean plate. The good thing is this simple game lets him play quietly, without disturbing other diners.”
– Evelyn Ng-Kway, Stay-Home Mum  

3. Time for science

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“I like to make use of items on the table to entertain my kids, such as making a hand puppet with a serviette. When I put sugar cubes in hot tea, I take the chance to teach about solids and liquids.”
– Winnie Lee, Educator 

4. Here’s my card

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“We give our baby a name card folder filled with our expired membership cards. She keeps herself busy flipping the plastic pages, looking at the different colours and trying to pull the cards in and out.”
– Cassandra Seow, Assistant Marketing Manager 

5. Form a family band

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“Whenever we eat out, we usually try to keep our youngest busy with baby biscuits, teethers and toys. But she loses interest quickly in normal toddler activities, so we make up new playthings for her – plastic bowls and spoons become a drum set, two sauce plates become clappers. We’ll lightly tap a fork or knife against a water glass to make music. That helps keep her occupied for long enough to allow one parent to finish the meal and take her for a walk.”
– Summer Goh, Stay-Home Mum

6. Get manipulative

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“Toddler activities are best when they are interactive. I punch holes into the back covers of magazines at home and take these out with us when we go to restaurants. When we’re at restaurants, the kids have fun lacing them together with strings and creating different shapes. We also have small number cards that we use to do one-to-one correspondence counting with anything on the table, from their drinks to French fries. Writing the numbers on paper napkins works just as well.”
– Nadia Cheong, Stay-Home Mum

7. Guess what?

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“We have a small magnetic drawing board that’s been a lifesaver. We start off by drawing objects that he’s able to identify – apple, ball, flower and so on – and ask him to guess what they are. He also loves to doodle on the drawing board himself.”
– Dennis Wee, Analyst

8. Expel some energy

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“We let the kids run around a bit outside the restaurant before the food arrives at the table. The deal is that they have to sit down once the meal is served. My youngest daughter usually tries to self-feed part of her meal, so that keeps her occupied for a while. But when she loses interest, we take out crayons and a notebook for her to scribble in, or some books for her to flip through.”
– Vera Ong, Stay-Home Mum

9. Sort your greens

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“I always bring a few types of vegetables for my son to eat at the restaurant. I mix them up and put them into his special bowl, with compartments. When we’re having dinner, I let him sort through the peas, carrots and corn himself. He loves this toddler activity, and the veggies also get eaten quickly.”
– Lindy Koh, Operations Manager 

10. Fall back on fruits

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“My bag is usually packed with drawing paper, crayons and markers. Sometimes I’ll pack some cut fruits from home to keep my toddler son busy while we’re waiting for our meal to be served. These also help banish hunger pangs.”
– June Yong, Investor Relations Consultant

Originally by Young Parents, February 2019 / Updated by Brooke Glassberg / Last updated Jasia Shamdasani

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