Want to have a nice meal out with your family, free of whining and complaining and screens? Well, we’re not miracle workers, but every parent who likes to eat out should keep a “restaurant bag” stashed in their car.
What goes into the bag will evolve as your kids age (or as they get bored with the offerings), but a good mix of stuff they love but rarely get to play with is key for keeping them quiet and content while you ponder how spicy is too spicy for a wing sauce.
So, grab a bag — a kids’ lunch bag works great — and start filling.
Mini-colouring books, activity books with mazes and word scrambles, and a few crayons, markers or gel pens can work wonders. But for some kids, a ballpoint pen and a small notebook to write or draw in will work, too.
Things to arrange
Reusable sticker sets are great for restaurants. Magnetic tin play sets, like this Curious George version that my son had, are a solid non-messy option, too.
Things with wheels
We always throw in an assortment of mini cars, trucks and motorcycles because there is something irresistible about driving them around the table, across the menu, up the napkin-holder and down the ketchup bottle.
Things to mould
We’ve always kept a mini container of Play-Doh in our restaurant bag — my son could spend hours tracking dinosaur footprints across the dough or creating an endless assortment of odd objects. But I know Play-Doh isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.
Things to fidget
I’m not suggesting fidget spinners, but stress balls or other fidget toys like these from Tangle Jr. are great.
Things to eat
The waiting-for-food meltdown is one of my least favourite of all the meltdowns because it’s usually happening when I’m hungry myself and edging dangerously close to Hangry Land.
It’s hard to be patient for food when you’re 3 years old (or 36, apparently), so keep a little bag of pretzels or crackers in the restaurant bag — just something to take the edge off until their meal arrives.