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I like going out for meals – no cooking, only eating – and the best part is the mess happens somewhere other than my house. The idea of casually walking out the door and sitting down to a good meal changed as soon as I had my first daughter. Now meals out involve a little more planning on what to bring to keep her entertained until the food comes.
Growing up my family had dinner together almost every night, and we talked about our day. That family time tradition was a must for me to continue with my husband and daughters. I’m Italian (although not as much as I thought, per my latest 23andme results) and Spanish/Portuguese so lots of food, conversation, and a noisy family result in longer meals. It was very important that we taught good mealtime behavior and manners early on, but, let’s be honest, asking a toddler to behave for a meal longer than 30 minutes (okay 10 minutes) is not always fair or realistic, so I started bringing a ‘go bag’ of fun, easy-to-pack stuff when we ate out.
We try to use videos as a last resort. I remember being pregnant with my first daughter sitting in a restaurant and the family next to us had two kids both on iPads. My husband and I both said that would never be us and our kids would never watch videos at dinner. Isn’t it adorable when people without kids silently judge those with children (insert eye roll here)? I am okay with a video at the table but like to try a few things before the iPhone comes out.
When my daughter was younger we had three staple items that came with us when we ate out and two of them were for me, germaphobic first time mom: highchair cover, disposable placemats, and puffs (if anyone knows the creators of Happy Baby please introduce me so I can say thank you for inventing puffs and helping us avoid so many meltdowns). As she got older, I needed to get more creative because, if your child is anything like mine, as soon as we walk into a restaurant, she is already asking when the food is coming because she is starving.
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Each time we go out, I try to bring a couple things to entertain her. Especially if we go out with friends each kid needs something to play with. First off, the dollar section at Target is amazing – puzzles, grab and go coloring packs, sticker books, you name it, and for the price, even if it lasts one dinner, it was more than worth it.
I love this puzzle because it comes in an easy to throw in your bag tube and the pieces can be divided among friends.
The Melissa and Doug brand has a ton of great grab-and-go products making me think that both Melissa and Doug have been where other parents are – just wanting to go out and enjoy a meal.
We love the reusable sticker pads (the stickers are actually reusable) and Water Wow! water-reveal activity pads (this is so mess-free that we sometimes “draw” in the car).
For easy to pack and carry books we love Step Into Reading Books, and, bonus, they come with stickers.
I always carry coloring books and crayons but love any of the on-the-go kits for coloring.
If all else fails, play “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” on your iPhone, order a large glass of wine, and call it a day. Happy restaurant mealtime!