This is one of my all-time favorite tips for moms, and I have to credit my mother-in-law, a.k.a. “Heloise”/Marcia, Mom Since 1963 (MS’63), for the idea. When our oldest son was 2, I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t sit still in restaurants. I even asked our pediatrician about this “problem,” and she assured me it was out of many kids’ abilities to sit still for 60-90 minutes in an adult environment, and that the only problem was our unrealistic expectations.

I was convinced we’d never make it to any restaurant more than once – or, that we’d need to go in disguise so they wouldn’t remember the kid who ran around the restaurant, shrieked from time to time, and emptied sugar packets like it was sport. Marcia S. suggested a “restaurant bag” complete with small noiseless but interesting toys, arts & crafts & anything fun to keep little hands busy.

It worked like a charm and gave us much-needed dining time outside of our kitchen for MANY years. I reserved these toys for restaurants only and to change the items from time to time to keep them special and unique. Then it became our “travel bag” too, and I HOPE we are all traveling LOTS when it’s safe to do so! Craft stores are great for stocking “magic ink” or small water paint kits. You’d also be shocked at the value you can find at your local Dollar Store for little trinkets & restaurant diversions – it’s like a kids’ wonderland as they race up and down the aisles with a whole DOLLAR! And this works for kids of all ages — the toys just get a little more electronic as the kids get older.

Once your kids expect the restaurant bag, and you’ve forgotten it for some reason, it’s like forgetting your Passport on an international trip. I suggest keeping it in the trunk of your car so it’s always there, and do rotate or refresh the contents from time to time. [Sidebar on the Dollar Store – When one of my boys was young, he really wanted to buy a special relative a birthday present but only had a bunch of change in his piggy bank. He was able to get something for $1 that was appropriate and affordable to him while feeling very responsible and independent in the process.]

Editor’s Note: I had saved this post to publish, and I realize that during the pandemic, we aren’t going out nearly as much. But it made me think…what if we renamed this “restaurant bag” the “special treat bag,” and even at home, there can be a special collection of toys/crafts/etc. that makes an appearance as a reward or celebration? And by the way, that 2-year-old is now a young adult and a DELIGHT in restaurants!

kids and restaurants