The Countdown to Maker Faire Bay Area is On!


Let Your Kids Play with Their Food

CRAFT Summer Camp
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.
pyramidrestaurantArt.jpg stackingArtrestaurant.jpg

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!

28 thoughts on “Let Your Kids Play with Their Food

  1. Amy says:

    I apologize for sounding critical, but is it fair to the restaurant and/or other patrons to let your kids put their hands all over dozens of sugar packets and jelly and creamer containers? Whether or not your kids use handwipes before handling all that stuff (and I suspect you have them use the handwipes AFTER handling all that stuff), they’re still playing around with stuff that other people are going to have to handle to eat. That’s kind of gross.

  2. jatoha says:

    The game we play with sugar packets is the “Don’t Pick up the Last One” game. You lay out a grid of packets and players take turns picking up 1 or 2 or 3 packets. Whoever picks up the last one loses.
    We mix it up by varying how many packets are laid out or by changing the number of packets you can pick up.

  3. karen says:

    to let your kids rub their hands all over all the condiments on the table that other people will be using – are you cleaning up after your kids when they make this huge mess on the table?
    I can tell you after 10+ years of waiting on tables that your server does NOT appreciate the mess and having to clean it up, especially if you leave a tip of less than 20%. It is not the restaurant’s responsibility to entertain your children, so if they are not mature enough to entertain themselves or you don’t think to bring things to occupy them, maybe you should head to a drive thru for breakfast.

  4. says:

    we make oragami cranes and paper hats and things out of napkins, thats always fun. We stack coffee creamers also. They are always fun.

  5. Shawn Connally says:

    These are some great suggestions — my boys will love the Don’t Pick Up the Last One game. A friend folds the dollar bills for the tip into origami cranes with his kids, too.
    And no, we don’t leave a mess (another opportunity to teach the kids!) and I usually tip well (even more than 20% if lots of food gets dropped on the floor). Personally, I don’t think we’re rubbing our hands all over the sealed condiments in some gross way, and the waitresses at our local restaurant actually bring us more to play with if it’s really busy. But I admit it’s not something I’d ever considered as being bothersome to some people.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I find just old fashioned discipline works wonders. Kids actually *want* to behave, go figure!

  7. Kim says:

    THANK you. I HATE it when parents let their kids play with whatever’s on the table. It’s gross, unsanitary and often just ends up all over the floor. If kids aren’t old enough or mature enough to behave themselves, you’d better well bring something along to entertain them or at the VERY least clean up the mess your kids make. Babies making a giant cheerio mess are one thing… Parents letting their kids play with and smash the crap out of crackers/creamers/sugar packets is irresponsible and just plain LAZY parenting.

  8. Kim says:

    A much better suggestion! Origami out of napkins is a fantastic idea! Stacking creamers is also fine! Stack away! (Just be sure to put them back when you’re finished)

  9. Kim says:

    Also, as to stacking jellies.. great, but please PLEASE put them back as you found them… even if you put them back, if they’re all willy nilly in the jelly holder, your server has to take them all out, (and wipe them down, no less) sort them and put them back in the correct order. I’m not exaggerating. As a former server and manager, this IS required of your server.

  10. Hanna says:

    I have a little mini tackle box full of crafty stuff: markers, google eyes, stickers, notecards, paper, pipe cleaners, stamps. I threw a couple of toys in there, too: cars, miniature animals, a tiny doll. I keep the box in the back of my car and just bring it in when I know we’ll be sitting for awhile. When my kids are ansty, I can’t relax, either.

  11. Jeannette says:

    Come on people. Do you seriously expect sugar packets, jelly containers and those mini creamers to be sanitary? What about all the people that sneeze over them? What about all the other people (adults) that go through each and every jelly packet to find their favorite flavor? If you are dumb enough NOT to wipe them off before opening than don’t blame the kids. Everyone is at fault.
    Now…off that topic. I use the packets as well. I also like to bring a pack of Wiki Sticks (they are like waxy coated yarn). Small and easy to have in your purse. Plus they are fun and re-usable.

  12. Amy says:

    In response to Jeannette, just because things aren’t perfectly sanitary, doesn’t mean I want them made even less sanitary by being unnecessarily handled — for entertainment purposes! — by kids, who are going to be a lot less sanitary than adults for the most part.
    I don’t think it’s necessary to imply that people are “dumb” for being concerned about this. Last I heard, toddlers routinely stick their fingers in their mouths or up their noses, and pick up anything off the floor that catches their fancy. This doesn’t kids “bad” and it doesn’t mean I don’t like them, but unless I’m mistaken, most adult patrons at restaurants DON’T do those things. So yeah, extra uneccessarily handling by kids is bothersome to some of us.

  13. Robin says:

    Spiral-bound index cards, some writing implement, and a few stickers have made many a wait (and drive) more tolerable for us. The spiral-bound cards are key — they stay together until one is deliberately removed, there’s a plain side for drawing or sticker art and a lined side for writing, they provide a stable flat surface, and they’re cheap. Also, Dover makes pocket-sized coloring and sticker books for about a dollar fifty.
    For slightly older kids, games like Math Dice or Word Rally are small and easy to carry, and Hangman is always a winner. We also play games like packing the picnic basket (“I pack apples.” “I pack apples and biscuits.” “I pack apples, biscuits, and chocolate.” — continues through the alphabet or until someone can’t remember the whole list).

  14. Amanda-Beth says:

    Family restaurants don’t mind if you play with packages of jam and creemer as long as you put them back. My sister and i made jam pyramid once it impressed waitress so much she insisted on getting picture of it before we picked it up. We are adhd duh why we tend to be up at odd hours dad usually made sure we had something to do but that day he didn’t because restaurant was spur of moment decision. we had long day planed that day and dad relized shoot the girls need to eat between activties and their was that hour to kill between a and b. The restaurant was close to b but fast food wasn’t close so yeah. Our favorite game was one daddy made up. Sence we girls had back packs he used those to carry stuff to not face in embarsment. So we were girls who liked hot wheels so daddy usually made sure some where in our bags and he’d make a maze with sliver ware and we would have to try to use our hot wheels to find way thru the maze as we got older mazes got harder till we could somewhat behave at restaurant im still that person you will find tapping foot while waiting. I usually bring something to occupy while i wait.

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Sometimes helpful editor and digital media director at MAKE and CRAFT.

View more articles by shawnconna
Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 30% off early bird ticket sales ends August 31st, 2023!

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Prices Increase in....