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Tips to Keep Kids Happy at a Restaurant

Dining out with the entire clan can be an ordeal, especially with little tikes in tow. But fear not—you can enjoy a delicious meal out with a little patience and imagination.

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In a perfect world, every restaurant would supply crayons, coloring books, and a chest full of games and toys. (Better yet, on-site entertainment and table-side mother’s helpers!) The reality is, though, you’ll need to be prepared for the moments your child begins to lose interest in the restaurant-provided activities.

For those moments you’ve forgotten your emergency stash of activities and find yourself needing to entertain your child, try one of these restaurant entertainment tips.

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Color Smart

Coloring sheets often don’t hold kids’ attention until the food arrives. If the kids’ menu or placemat is fairly bare, draw shapes or letter outlines on it for kids to color in, or use it for endless tic-tac-toe, or whatever activities you can imagine. You can also use the paper children’s menu for some simple paper folding or origami. Fold it into a fan, bow tie, football, or other simple shapes.

Play the Spy

What better place to break out a spotting game like I Spy than at a restaurant with plenty of sights, colors, and textures to explore—with your eyes, of course. Another great game that requires only conversation is 21 Questions, in which one person thinks of an item and the others ask questions—with yes or no answers only— to figure out what it is. Depending on the age of the kids, you may want to adjust the game to 10 or five questions and limit the topic. Another fun conversation game is “Would You Rather?” Take turns asking questions, such as, Would you rather live at the top of a mountain or on the beach? Would you rather eat potatoes or pasta for the rest of your life? It’s a fun way to get to know more about your kids.

Dig Purse Deep

Normally purses are full of odds and ends that have been there for months. Choose five to 10 items from the depths of your purse and place them in the middle of the table for everyone to see. Then ask your children to close their eyes while you remove one item and rearrange the rest. When your children open their eyes, let them guess which item was removed. Keep doing this until the meal arrives or all the items have been removed and guessed.

Repurpose Tableware

If you keep a tidy purse or it’s just dad and the kids, use what you find on the table to create a “train”. Line up silverware, straws, salt and pepper shakers, sugar packets, or any other items on the table that are easy to put back when the meal comes. Don’t forget the napkins which can be used to play peek-a-boo, or wrapped around your hand to make a puppet.

Let’s Talk

Just because you’re dining out, doesn’t mean the mealtime conversation ends. Engage your children. No matter their age, sometimes all they crave is your undivided attention. If it’s a quieter restaurant, ask your children questions like: What’s the best thing you did today? What are you grateful for? What are you most looking forward to this school year? Listen to their answers. You might be surprised at what they have to say.

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