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Dining out with young children

Sample activity bags are ready for action
Sample activity bags are ready for action
Jillian Shafer

A break from the meal planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning can sound like the ultimate break for the busy parent.  Dining out offers endless culinary possibilities and, of course, provides an often much needed break in the dinner routine.

But, dining out with the preschool set can often seem like daunting work that only the truly brave are cut out for.  While many restaurants offer crayons and paper for tots, you can also use this time to stimulate their minds, providing opportunities to strengthen fine motor skills, encourage creativity and just keep them busy.

Before heading out to your local restaurant, plan ahead.  Grab some Ziploc bags or reusable pencil pouches that can become your "Activity bags."  Start with two or three and build from there, getting a sense of what keeps your child entertained and content.

Once you have your bags, get set to create some new (remember that novelty is big with little ones), challenging activities that will keep even your tiniest diner engaged.  Stuff one bag full of finger puppets and once you order, pass the time with a mini puppet show.  Grab another bag and fill it with some practical life tools.  Dollar stores are a great place to pick up tiny calculators, eye glass repair kits or plastic doctor kits.  Your creative thinker will be so engrossed in pretend play that she won't even notice when the food takes longer than usual to arrive.

Not in the mood to play along?  Try filling one bag with a small notebook and an assortment of stickers.  Watch those tiny finger muscles peel the stickers off and create collages and masterpieces that can be permanently saved.  A bag containing tiny stamps, new markers or a can of Play-Doh can provide just the quiet entertainment a little one needs for restaurant eating.

Dining out with our little ones can be an enjoyable experience, for everyone involved (even that waiter that saw you coming and inwardly sighed!).  Activity bags can be constantly rotated in and out, filled and re-filled and kept inside the car so that they're ready when you need them.

Looking to dine out with your child tonight?  Check out the Press-Telegram's website for information on Long Beach area restaurants that offer nights where kids eat for free.


  • Beverly O'Neal, South Bay Parenting Examiner 5 years ago

    What great, budget-friendly ideas! Thank you. We'll be assembling activity bags for restaurant outings (and our cross-country drive this summer).

  • Cheryl Carpenter 5 years ago

    You have some really good ideas. We can't wait to try these out the next time we try to dine out.

  • Michael 5 years ago

    Very informative. I am a firm believer that busy kids are happy kids.

  • Kimberly Wilcox 5 years ago

    I love the idea of activity bags! My son is only 11 months old but I'm going to start our collection. They can be used for so many different things! I also LOVE your link for the kids eat free locations! Times are tough these days!

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