Best Toddler Restaurant toys (2)

10 Toddler Restaurant Toys To Pack (So You Can Enjoy Your Meal Too!)

Last updated on September 7th, 2023 at 03:28 pm

As a mom, you know the struggles and joys of taking your toddler out to eat. While they can often be picky at the dinner table, with some smart planning ahead of time you can make going out to eat with a toddler fun for everyone!

Packing some travel toys for the way there and at the restaurant is a great way to do this! They’ll stay entertained during the wait and it will give them something special they get to bring along on your adventures.

To help make sure you don’t forget those important playthings on your next outing, we’ve rounded up our top 10, non-electronic, table top toys below. Read on for activities and toys guaranteed to keep both parents and toddlers happy when you hit up that favorite joint or new eatery in town!

Our 5 Best Toddler Restaurant Toys

Read on to see our other favorites!

Dining with a Toddler, Why It’s Different

toddler at a restuarant

First things first. I’m saying this as a friend, so don’t get mad.

This is the world you live in now and going out to eat with a toddler will be different! But different is great, think of all the new foods you get to share with them!

1.   You might not get to eat all your food – at least not in one sitting.

2. You won’t be able to have adult conversations fluidly. ‘What were we talking about?’ Will be said often.

3.   You won’t stay as long.

4.   You probably won’t stay seated the whole time.

5.   You will pack a bag of travel toys- toys dedicated specifically for restaurant trips and car rides.

Once you are comfortable with this you can go in with realistic expectations and actually enjoy the experience.

Related: Looking for an activity to do before the restaurant? Here are my favorite toddler activities (indoor & outdoor ideas)

Toddler Restuarant Toys

Toddler Restaurant Tips

1.    Look for reviews and ensure they are family-friendly. This ensures staff will be used to serving families and will be flexible and understanding.    Make sure they:

  • Have a kids’ menu or family deal
  • Have high chairs or booster seats
  • Have reviews that say they are family friendly

2.    Nap: make sure your toddler has had a good nap and that you won’t be at the restaurant too long, so they can stick to their bedtime routine.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve packed travel toys for toddlers, if they are sleepy they will fuss!

3.   Make a Game Plan. If you are going with your partner, talk about how you will handle situations.

  • Agree that if they get fussy one parent will take them for a walk.
  • Agree it’s ok for the other parent to finish eating and take turns. That way there is no resentment if the dinner takes a turn for the worst.
  • Agree to take turns helping your toddler with whatever they need.
  • Agree to leave it it’s just not working.

4.   Pack a bag of toddler restaurant toys that can be played solo or can get the whole table involved.  

How to Manage Toddler Public Tantrums  

Toddler tantrums happen. It’s ok, take a deep breath and you both will get through this!

In public, they can be even more embarrassing, frustrating and so painful to watch, but these outbursts don’t have to ruin your restaurant outing.

Here’s how to manage public temper tantrums.

1.   Don’t overreact  

It may feel like all eyes are on you and judging your parenting skills at this moment, but reacting to this sudden pressure and spotlight can actually make it much harder to control your toddler. Focus on helping your child and ignore the other restaurant customers.    

2.   Speak in a quiet and calm voice

Raising your voice will only bring more attention from the people around you.   Additionally, it may trigger your child to go into an even bigger tantrum.  

They are trying to get a reaction from you.   Speaking in a calm, quiet voice will force them to calm down in order to listen to you.    

Speaking quietly will help get your message through to them and your words will stay quiet between you and your toddler.    

3.   Don’t Give In To Their Demands

Easier said than done with a two year old screaming, but try not to give in to what they are asking for.   If you do, the next time you go to a restaurant they will do the same because they know it works.  

4.   Avoid the Tantrums

Young children are prone to temper tantrums when they’re feeling out of sorts. They might be hungry, tired, overstimulated, or bored. If you can avoid it, don’t take your child to a restaurant when they’re overly tired or starving.  

If they’re overstimulated because the restaurant is really busy, find a way to engage them in one focused activity – the games below or busy boards should help.  

5.   Give your toddler choices

Another way to avoid a tantrum is to involve your child in the decision-making at the restaurant.   Don’t keep the choices open-ended (ex. What do you want to eat?. Instead give two options.  

Some examples:

  • Do you want to sit in this chair or this chair?
  • Would you like milk or water with your dinner?
  • Do you want pasta or chicken tonight?

Feeling in control will help them feel part of the process of eating out and they will be less inclined to have a tantrum.

Public temper tantrums are embarrassing and pure torture when they’re happening. If you cannot get your child to calm down in the restaurant, don’t hesitate to leave the table, pick up your child and remove them from the environment. It sends a strong and powerful signal to your child that you’re not affected by their behavior and it’s not going to be tolerated.

10 Best Toddler Toys For Restaurants

1.   Busy Book  

09/29/2023 04:55 pm GMT

Busy Books are great travel toys for toddlers at a restaurant.  

They do what they say – they keep their little hands busy with zippers, buttons, clasps, etc.  

They can get pricey but this version isn’t too bad and will keep your toddler entertained while you order. Great for the car too!

2.   Matching Game

Any matching game will do, but I like this version because it’s wood (so the pieces can handle a juice spill at a restaurant) and they come in a cute bag that’s easy for travel.  

Matching games can be played with the whole family too!

3. Playdoh

09/29/2023 05:10 pm GMT

Playdoh is so versatile and you and your toddler can play together.   I find the bag and play doh tools to be pretty handy. But if you’re short on space, you could always pop one of the tubs in the diaper bag.

4. Food Matching Game

09/29/2023 05:05 pm GMT

Turn the restaurant into a little classroom and play this food-themed matching game.  You can also match the food at the table to the cards for real life examples.

Pack the cards in a ziploc bag to keep them safe and save room in your bag.    

5. Reusable Color with Water Pads

These no-mess coloring pads are a staple in our house.

I’ll often pull these out for my son while I am making dinner and they are just as great as a travel toy because they are no mess. Just fill the pen with water and your toddler can color away.

6.  Pocket Pouch Magnetic Wooden Block Set

09/29/2023 05:20 pm GMT

These blocks have built-in magnets so they won’t fall down as easily when your toddler is playing with them.  

They are also made in Honduras with the goal of creating fair trade jobs for local residents – bonus!

7.   Activity Book

An activity book your toddler hasn’t seen before is a GREAT way to keep them entertained after they finish their meal.    

8. Lift the Flap Book

09/29/2023 05:35 pm GMT

My daughter has loved lift-the-flap books since she was very young and they still keep her entertained as a toddler.  

This book has a “search” component which is great for older toddlers while you grab an after-dinner coffee.  

9. Puzzle

If your toddler is older and putting puzzles together, these are wonderful table top toys to keep them busy at the table. To save space you can put the pieces in a ziploc bag.  

Puzzles can also become family games if you all take turns adding in a piece.  

10.   Coloring Book

09/29/2023 09:10 pm GMT

Sometimes family-friendly restaurants provide crayons and a coloring book, but if they don’t these make a fun addition to dinner.

Everyone loves a good no mess toy!

Conclusion: 10 Best Restaurant Toys For Toddlers

I’m sure you noticed I didn’t mention electronics, like an iPad.

Full disclosure: Sure, I let my toddler watch tv at home and let her watch YouTube on my phone during long drives, BUT at a restaurant, I try to avoid this.

I want to teach my toddler that this is family time and an experience.  

She needs to be involved and present. I’d rather pick toys we can all play with together.

BUT if it’s going to avoid a meltdown – I would give it to her so I could pay and leave.

I don’t want her sitting there with a screen in her face not engaged. We are paying to go out so let’s have fun!

Eating out can be a really fun family event with some planning. Don’t forget to pack some engaging travel toys to play at the table.  

Planning, patience, and a little trial and error will make eating out as a family an event everyone enjoys!

How do I keep a 1 year old busy at a restaurant?

I’d recommend having a bag of entertaining supplies such as no mess coloring books, wooden matching toys, or busy books in your diaper bag. I like to keep these separate from the regular mix of toys so they get something special when we’re out to eat.
I avoid a screen when possible but realize it may be needed as a last resort.

How do I make dining out fun for a toddler?

Involve them in the decision making process as much as possible. From deciding where they want to sit, what they want to eat, or what toys to play with. If they feel empowered and in control they will generally be more pleasant at dinner.
I would HIGHLY suggest keeping the selections to choose from between 2, this or that, chicken or pasta, etc.

Related Toddler Articles:  

25 Practical Gifts for 2 Year Olds That Aren’t Toys (and are actually useful!)

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