My husband isn’t a big breakfast eater, and it’s one of my favorite meals, especially if I don’t have to cook it. As such, I’ve had many a morning in a restaurant with just me, a toddler, and a school-age boy in tow waiting for the food to arrive. Out of necessity, I’ve come up with a few ideas to keep the kids occupied while you drink that all-too-important first cup of coffee. So if your summer plans include a trip, or just a couple of Saturday brunches, consider letting your kids play with their food. These few activities have worked well for us when there were no crayons on the table, no pizza dough balls handed out, and no toys in mom’s purse.
- Make designs out of the cutlery. Depending on the age of your kid(s), the designs can be simple, or more complex. This is also a great way to sneak in a little shape-recognition work for toddlers. “Can you make a triangle? Look, your brother made a star.”
- Sugar packets are great for all sorts of things, including sorting. Arlo loved to separate out all the yellow packets from the blue packets from the white packets. Then we’d discuss colors — “Show me the blue pile” — followed by counting games. This could be as simple as counting up to 3 packets, or as complex as figuring out which color there are more of. As he got older, he’d lay out the packets in intricate patterns — pyramids, highways, even house and airplane shapes.
- Stacking things is fun! And letting them fall is way fun for kids, and a little less fun for Mom. Jelly containers, sugar packets, and creamer containers are all fair game. I think the record in our family was 9 creamers in an unstable tower; thankfully none of them burst open when the tower crumpled. And I’m even more thankful my husband wasn’t there to see my parenting, which he would have surely deemed “slacker.”
- Older kids want bigger challenges and bigger messes. My husband and I are huge fans of Penn and Teller from way back, and their masterpiece, How to Play with Your Food, has some great ideas for the older kids you may be dining with. The Parsley Game is fun once the food has arrived, but our all-time favorite is the Fork in the Eye trick, which incorporates a creamer, a fork, and an unsuspecting victim.
I do try to carry little boxes of crayons and a few plastic ninjas in my purse at all times, along with hand wipes and one of those notepads from the hotel nightstand, as added reinforcements. What other tricks do you readers have for keeping the kids occupied when in a restaurant or, heaven forbid, lasting through a more formal meal? Tell us about it in the Comments!