I used to practically have anxiety attacks in anticipation of walking into a restaurant with my kids in tow. Reminding them to use their inside voices and asking them to sit still and stay in their seats seemed to be a lot to ask. I've come so close many times to just throwing my hands up and pulling the plug on taking them out to eat. It just wasn't the enjoyable experience I had envisioned!
To retain my sanity, and to achieve my goal of teaching my kids proper table manners, I've had to become a little savvier at navigating our dining experiences at restaurants, which includes bringing entertainment. Hello, busy bags! I'm not saying that every meal out is a zen dining experience, but let me say, they've been a game changer. Here's what I bring:
Travel-size games and toys, like a mini Etch-a-Sketch, are ideal for compact restaurant tables. But keep it small and simple; it's not necessary to throw your back out because you lugged the entire playroom in your purse.
2. Special occasion
Whatever toys make it into the busy bag, stay in the busy bag. By keeping the toys "special," your child will be engaged and play quietly a lot longer.
3. Old faithfuls
I never forget the classics, like crayons and coloring books. Even adults like to color! If you can't find a small coloring book, then a mini notepad, Post-It notes or a reusable sticker book work great, too.
4. Keep it together
I keep all the girls' goodies together and organized by using Ziploc storage bags. That way, items don't get lost in the depths of my purse or left behind at the restaurant.
5. Get crafty
Pre-packaged craft kits are perfect for restaurant entertaining if they aren't too complicated or require glue; otherwise, you may find yourself in a truly sticky situation. Pipe cleaners and Wikki sticks help my kids build their imaginations while keeping the peace at the table until the food arrives.
6. Construction zone
For little builders, I like to bring a small bag of Legos along. But they're not your only option. My kids like Picasso tiles, Magna-tiles—or even better for a busy bag, magnetic blocks by Tegu, which come in a small travel size with their own fabric pouch.
7. Snack attack
Sometimes the food just doesn't come...for a long time. Or, it's just one of those days where your kiddo is constantly hungry. That's why I always pack a small snack, like a granola bar or some crackers, to tide over my hungry kids before the meal is served.
8. When in Rome
Uh oh, what if you switch purses at the last minute and forget to transfer the magic bag of tricks? Panic? Nope, it's time to improvise! Create a counting game with sugar packets or sort everything by color and shape. Find how many like items (water glasses, forks, etc.) are on the table or play a game of "I Spy." But if it's a kid-friendly restaurant, they most likely will have some crayons and paper to offer you, whew.
Emma Heming Willis is married to actor Bruce Willis, the mother of their two children, and a stepmom to his three daughters. She is a former supermodel and now partners on a few of the businesses she shares with her husband. She started her blog, First Time Mom, as a way to communicate with other first-time moms on all things.