SC Johnson Family Economics Blog
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dining Out with Little Ones | Family Economics

By Cathe

When my children were younger, waiting for a meal while dining out could become difficult at times when boredom struck. It took a bit of savvy entertaining at the table to keep little ones busy and non-disruptive to other guests when free coloring sheets and crayons were unavailable.

One of our best successes with eating out with children was when we allowed our son to bring his little plastic dump truck into the restaurant. He spent the entire time quietly loading and unloading the sugar and sweetener packets from container to table. He was so preoccupied we finally had to convince him to eat his meal.

My big sister taught me how to play the "shell" game with little packets of jam—my favorite breakfast-diner pastime. If your table has jelly packs labeled on the top but identical on the bottom, choose two of the same flavor and one different, such as two strawberry jellies and one grape jelly. Show your child the three packets with labels turned upright and ask him to keep an eye on the grape jelly. Turn them over and begin to slowly shuffle them around each other while the child tries to follow the grape one with his eyes. When you stop, ask him to guess which packet is the grape jelly. If he gets good at guessing, speed up the shuffle! This can also work with sugar packets if you mark one of them with an X before turning over. When done, use the jelly on your toast and sugar in your tea.

"I Spy" is a fantastic game played with soft voices. Children can play together while the grownups visit, looking around the restaurant and naming characteristics of an object they see for the other child to try to find. "I spy with my little eye...something round and shiny." Or print out an "I Spy" sheet found here to keep tucked in your purse for just such an occasion.

18 Comments so far

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On Monday, May 24, 2010, Tingtingmamma wrote

My husband and I play "I Spy" with the younger one, and "21 questions" with the older ones when we do not have any supplies at hand. But when we do have crayons and paper, my kids enjoy tracing their hands (and mine) on a piece of paper and create faces of the family (or animals) on the fingers. I took that a step further. I draw each character as part of a silly story the kids and I made up. We always end up with lots of laughs.

On Sunday, April 25, 2010, Amy from "Crafting by Candlelight" wrote

We now carry a mini-MagnaDoodle in the diaper bag. It provides endless entertainment with no mess and is easy to carry around because it doesn't have lots of pieces!!!

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Bitybooks wrote

We play tic tac toe with the sugar & sweet n low packs, they are always on the table so I do not have to worry with packing something else in my purse! Another game we like to play is one person studies everything on the table for 1 minute then closes their eyes. One item is removed & hidden then they try to guess what was removed.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, ~Heather wrote

Playdough -don't leave home without it!

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Cathe Holden wrote

These ideas are fantastic everyone!! Thank you for taking the time to share them. I love the idea of toys that are special just for restaurant play.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Kaycee wrote

We actually have a little photobook with a picture of every member of our family (including extended family) in it. We made it for a flight when my daughter was about 16 months old. She's 2 now and still loves to look at it and tell us about the people in the pictures and try to name them. Books are a big one with her too - sometimes she looks at them sometimes we read them. We usually have stickers around too, which she loves. I also found a 'coloring' book that uses a water filled pen to color and she LOVES that, we only use it when we are out. We tend to keep a couple toys in the diaper bag or my purse that she only uses at restaurants.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Margaret wrote

BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS!! DD loves books.... Also Eye-spy. And just talking...

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Beth from wrote

I also carry the "restaurant" bag with goodies, but sometimes I don't want to lug it. In that case, just having a few crayons in my bag usually does the trick-- there's often placemats or kids menus to draw on. We've also played games with straw wrappers-- the old "wrinkle it up and drip water on it" trick, or making rosettes out of them. Word games are fun for slightly older kids, too-- rhyming games, or thinking of words for each letter of the alphabet.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, Katie's Nesting Spot wrote

We have a crayon and color tote bag that we bought so we are never without something for busy fingers to do. Travel sized play doh and a few small cookie cutters are also very good things to entertain with on the fly.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Karen 4 2 boys wrote

we used the little containers of playdoh, too. and i kept crayons in my purse for years. my best baby/toddler trick was to ask for a cup of ice, then i'd let my son play with them while we waited.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Haann a JSIM fan wrote

My mom would keep thaumatropes in her purse. (a Victorian paper toy) Sometimes blank ones she could draw on. They are great fun and entertain a wide age group.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Robin from Georgia. wrote

I always kept a small canvas bag in my car that had special treasures that we only used when we were at a restaurant....things like scented markers or sparkle crayons, tiny puzzle games, stickers books, special pop-up books...That seemed to work until they discovered hand-held video games.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Sarah from Cotton Kiwi wrote

What a great post. I'm a big believer in taking kids to restaurants and cafes to socialise them when young. My parents always took us out and we loved it and knew it was a treat. My Mum always had a packet of paper doileys (you know the lacey old fashioned kind) and some felt tip pens and we would spend ages colouring them in. If we go to a restaurant I always take a colouring in book and pencils for my girls (and one restaurant we go to lets them colour in the brown paper table cloth!) When they were babies, I would sometimes give them my keys or my purse to play with. They would spend ages taking everything out and putting it back in again and we could eat in peace. Giving older kids jobs to do is great too. My oldest (age 6) collects napkins and cutlery for us and the youngest carries the table number if we have one. Can't wait to hear the other ideas!

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Jana D wrote

I have a little tin (a deck of cards came in it) filled with tiny toys that I keep in the car just for restaurants. My daughters know that they can only play with them when we eat out. It works like a charm, and has been for the last 10 years. Yes, they are still interested in these little toys.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Jill wrote

Sometimes we have to get pretty creative don't we? I've played the "Disappearing spoon/ Where'd it go?!" game A LOT! You take the spoon cover it with a napkin and wave your other hand over saying whatever silly words you want to use while you let the spoon slip into your lap. Of course then you reveal that the spoon disappeared. Covertly, replace the get the idea.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Heidi in Colorado wrote

One thing I do is bring a tiny container of Play-doh (the small tubs that you can buy to give out at Halloween). It easily fits in my purse, and I've never met a kid who didn't like it! We've used it while waiting at doctors' offices and on airplanes as well.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, Jan wrote

We played a lot of games of "Hangman." Bring along a small pad of paper and a pen. It was a great guessing game and we had a lot of laughs while waiting for dinner.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2010, kiko wrote

I always carry a dice in my purse. For preschool age to lower elementary kids, you can play this game. You get a piece of paper. each person writes down the number 1 to 6. Roll dice and cross out the number you rolled. The first person to cross out all the numbers wins. Of course you can always do tic tac toe and such.


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