How to enjoy a restaurant meal with your toddlers in tow

If you are a parent with a toddler, you have probably experienced the same challenges we do during most meal times out – our 14-month-old (nicknamed Kwazii) is unable to sit down for more than 20 minutes at a time, as he is either attempting to play little Houdini and climb out of the high chair, arch his back such that he looks like he is just about to fall off the chair, or make a lot of noise until we let him out of the chair.

While we are not against the use of screens for children in general, we usually do not allow our two kids to watch any shows at the dining table. Since our eldest, nicknamed Barnacles, was born four years ago, we have tried several methods to keep toddlers occupied while eating out – without the use of screens. We hope this comes in useful for parents who are trying to eat in peace.

1. Bring a wallet or card case filled with old cards

Our spare wallet with outdated cards.

This method has been the biggest hit with both our kids. When Barnacles was about one, he had loads of fun opening up mummy’s wallet to take out the cards one by one, then attempting to put them back in. This would keep him occupied for a good 10 to 15 minutes – which is a long time in a child’s world. However, we were always worried that he might throw an important card off the table and we would lose it. So we decided to fill a spare wallet and a card case with unneeded cards, so we would not be too concerned if we lost one. We alternate between bringing the wallet and card case out with us. A plus point about this is that it trains finger dexterity for the little ones.

2. Keep a snack cup handy

We tether the snack cup to the high chair just in case.

Most toddlers love snacks, right? A snack cup with a silicone lid to prevent the snacks from falling out worked wonders for us with our four-year-old when he was young, as he loved picking up small baby snacks like puffs to feed himself. Unfortunately for us, our 14-month-old isn’t as much of a snacker as Barnacles used to be (and still is). Still, a snack cup filled with baby snacks, tethered to the high chair with a toy strap (as he loves to throw it off the table), does keep him occupied for awhile, even if it is just to reach into the snack cup and hand Mummy or Daddy his baby snacks piece by piece until the cup is empty.

3. Bring crayons and paper / Melissa & Doug water books 

Water colour cards from Melissa & Doug.

When Barnacles was young, he was not keen on crayons and paper. Now that he is older, however, he is quite happy to draw or write while waiting for his meal. Kwazii also loves to imitate his elder brother, and likewise takes crayons or coloured pencils to scribble on a piece of paper. The downside is that he starts throwing all the coloured pencils off the table when he gets bored. One good option minus the mess is to bring along a Melissa & Doug colour-with-water book that can be painted with plain water, or a magnetic drawing board with the drawing pen attached to the board.

4. Bring a small resealable plastic bag or container with items inside

At 14 months, Kwazii loves taking a container and filling it with items, then taking out all the items one by one again. He also loves trying to slide open a small resealable plastic baggie with his fingers, remove the contents (we fill it with a few toddler-friendly blocks or crayons), then try to put them back again. If your toddler likes to put things in his or her mouth, use a small Ziploc bag without the slider as this small piece can be a choking hazard.

5. Take along a magnetic board or book

Our two kids love the Fireman Sam magnet book.

If your children are like ours, they would generally be intrigued by magnets. Our four-year-old’s favourite magnet book is a Fireman Sam one that we bought from Popular Bookstore. Our youngest has also developed a liking for this, especially after seeing his elder brother playing with it so often. For a DIY option, a small metal biscuit tin like those usually sold during Christmas time works well, and the magnets can also be stored inside.

Even though the above suggestions worked for both our kids, we did sometimes have to shake things up a little as they got bored with the same activity. But if you are at your wits’ end and no activity works for your child for more than five minutes, take heart – it does get better as they get older. We used to joke that our four-year-old had ants in his pants as he could not keep still at the meal table, but he is now able to sit down while waiting for his meal, with the occasional complaint about how the food is taking too long. You could also consider taking the kids to a restaurant with a play area (we are busy scouting out some of these) to occupy them while waiting for the food to arrive. Of course, if all else fails, just eat quickly and leave!

Mummy and Daddy Daycare are the pseudonyms of a Singaporean husband and wife who are raising two young boys aged four and one, nicknamed Barnacles and Kwazii from the children’s Octonauts series. Get into the minds of this couple who describe parenthood as a lifetime adventure – you are always learning something new! Whoever said parenting was a walk in the park?


Other articles by Mummy and Daddy Daycare:

Nurturing a love for books in children

Choosing the right sports for your tiny tots

Choosing a stroller: Some of the best baby buggies reviewed