Best Toddler Restaurant toys (2)

Top 10 Screen-Free Toddler Restaurant Toys That Boost Development While Dining Out in 2023

Discover the joy of dining out with your family using the best toddler restaurant toys, which make every meal stress-free and fun!

As a mom with two little ones under three, I know the struggles of dining out!

This post may contain affiliate links. For my full disclosure policy click here.

I’ve “tested” lots of toys and these are my go-to top 10 non-electronic, tabletop toys. They have been a game-changer, keeping my little ones happily engaged and turning our meals out into enjoyable experiences.

Find out how these travel-friendly toys can transform your dining experiences with your toddlers into delightful outings.

Key Takeaway

“Transform dining out with toddlers into a delightful experience with our top 10 toddler restaurant toys. These non-electronic, table-top toys are a game-changer for keeping little ones engaged, making meals enjoyable for the whole family.

Remember, the key to a successful outing is a mix of planning, patience, and the right toys – like no-mess coloring books and wooden matching games.

Involve your toddler in decisions, and keep these special toys reserved for dining out to make each meal a unique adventure!”

Read on to see our other favorites!

10 Best Restaurant Toys For Toddlers

1.   Busy Book  

Great for quiet play
02/18/2024 07:15 pm GMT

Busy Books are great travel toys for toddlers at a restaurant. These are my kid’s hands-down favorites!

Busy Books engage toddlers with zippers, buttons, clasps, and more, keeping their hands occupied.

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!

Developmental Benefit:
  • Enhances fine motor skills through manipulation of zippers, buttons, and clasps.
  • Enhances fine motor skills with zippers, buttons, and clasps.
  • Keeps toddlers engaged for extended periods, especially during meals or travel.
  • Can be more expensive compared to other toddler toys.

2.   Matching Game

Great for family play
02/18/2024 07:26 pm GMT

I prefer this wooden matching game for its durability against spills and its travel-friendly bag. 

Matching games can be played with the whole family too!

Developmental Benefit:
  • Encourages cognitive development by improving memory and pattern recognition skills.
  • Promotes cognitive development through pattern and shape recognition.
  • Durable wooden pieces suitable for restaurant environments.
  • Small pieces may be easily lost, especially when traveling.

3. Playdoh

Sensory Play
02/18/2024 07:35 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.

Developmental Benefit:

  • Stimulates creativity and sensory skills, as well as muscle development in hands.
  • Encourages creative play and sensory development.
  • Compact and portable with the option to bring only a few tubs.
  • Can get messy and may stick to surfaces or fabrics.

4. Food Matching Game

02/19/2024 03:48 am 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.

Developmental Benefit:
  • Teaches toddlers about different types of foods and enhances matching and categorization skills.
  • Educational, helps with learning food names and categories.
  • Interactive and can be related to actual food items on the table.
  • Cards may be easily damaged or soiled in a restaurant setting.

5. Reusable Color with Water Pads

Encourage artistic expression
02/18/2024 07:40 pm GMT

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.

Developmental Benefit:
  • Encourages artistic expression and improves fine motor skills through drawing and painting.
  • Mess-free coloring is ideal for use in public places.
  • Reusable, providing long-term value and entertainment.
  • May have limited creative options compared to traditional coloring books.

6.  Pocket Pouch Magnetic Wooden Block Set

Problem solving skills
02/18/2024 07:50 pm GMT

The built-in magnets in these blocks help them stay upright during play.

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

Developmental Benefit:
  • Develops spatial awareness, problem-solving skills, and creative building.
  • Enhances spatial awareness and creativity.
  • Magnetic blocks are less likely to fall and scatter.
  • Smaller block sets may not offer as many building options.

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.  

Developmental Benefit:
  • Enhances a range of skills including problem-solving, reading, and hand-eye coordination.
  • Offers a variety of activities to keep toddlers engaged.
  • New activities can provide fresh entertainment value.
  • Once completed, may not hold the toddler’s interest for as long.

8. Lift the Flap Book

02/19/2024 04:01 am 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.  

Developmental Benefit:
  • Stimulates curiosity and cognitive skills through the discovery of hidden images or text.
  • Interactive elements maintain a toddler’s interest.
  • Encourages curiosity and exploration.
  • Flaps can be torn by younger toddlers.

9. Puzzle

If your toddler is older and putting puzzles together, these are wonderful table top toys to keep them entertained. 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.  

Developmental Benefit:
  • Improves hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Develops problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination.
  • Can be a cooperative activity for family involvement.
  • Small pieces can be lost, making the puzzle incomplete and less engaging.

10.   Coloring Book

Woodland Animals Coloring Book

Woodland Animals Coloring Book

  • Encourages creativity and can be theme-related.
  • Affordable and easy to source.
  • May require additional items (crayons, markers).
  • Can be theme-limiting.
02/18/2024 11:36 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!

Dining with a Toddler, Why It’s Different

toddler at restaurant

Dining out with toddlers is a unique experience! As I’m sure you’re already well familiar with! Here are some tips to help.

  • Accept the New Normal: Understand that dining out with toddlers is a different experience, with shorter stays and more active involvement.
  • Prepare for Interruptions: Be ready for mid-meal walks and frequent distractions.
  • Pack Special Toys: Bring along specific restaurant toys to keep your toddler engaged.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Go into the dining experience knowing it won’t be like dining without kids, but it can still be enjoyable.
toddler eating toast

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.  

toddler throwing a tantrum

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 outing.

Here’s how to manage public temper tantrums.

  • Stay Calm: Avoid overreacting to tantrums to prevent escalating the situation.
  • Use a Quiet Voice: Speak calmly to your toddler to de-escalate their emotions.
  • Resist Giving In: Avoid fulfilling tantrum demands to prevent future outbursts.
  • Preempt Tantrums: Be aware of signs like hunger or tiredness and address them early.
  • Engage with Activities: Redirect attention using toys when your toddler is overstimulated.
  • Offer Choices: Involve your toddler in simple decisions to give them a sense of control and reduce tantrum likelihood. For example: Water or milk? Pasta or Chicken? This chair or that?
  • Know When to Step Away: If necessary, take your child out of the environment to help them calm down.

Managing toddler tantrums in public involves staying calm, not overreacting, and giving clear choices. If needed, removing your child from the environment can be an effective last resort

toddler restaurant toys

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!

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?

Keep a 1-year-old busy at a restaurant with special toys like no-mess coloring books and wooden games. While screens are a last resort, having a variety of engaging toys is key.

How do I make dining out fun for a toddler?

Make dining fun for toddlers by involving them in simple choices, like where to sit or what to eat. Offering limited options keeps them engaged and happy during the meal.
Having some toys for them to play with at the table will also keep them occupied while you eat.

Related Toddler Articles:  

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