Dining Out with Kids: Fun, Screen-Free Activities to Keep Them Entertained

January 17, 2023

Going out to eat should be relaxing. No cooking, no dishes, no stress. But if you’re a parent, you probably know all too well that restaurants and kids don’t always mix. If you’re like most parents, you probably scan the menu for items your bland-taste-budded kiddos will eat, ensure the restaurant isn’t too fancy (cloth table cloths are generally a no-go), and hope there is still a decent selection of entrees (and wine) for you to enjoy. Then there’s the struggle to keep the little balls of energy entertained before you order, after you order, and hopefully while you eat. Two out of three isn’t bad, but then you’re likely taking your meal home and reheating it for lunch the next day.  Not exactly the stress-free outing most people hope for. While we can’t make every menu kid-friendly, we can help you entertain your kiddos with (screen-free!) fun so you can enjoy your meal and maybe even some uninterrupted adult conversation. Here’s five activities to try when at a restaurant with your kids:

1. What’s missing? - a take on the classic memory game, set out some items on the table (think sugar packets, salt shakers, silverware, etc), give your kiddos a moment to memorize the items, and then have them close their eyes. Take one item away and then ask them: “What’s missing?” If the items on the table aren’t interesting enough, I usually find lots of things at the bottom of my purse that can add variety.

2. Straw tic tac toe - use four straws to create a makeshift tic-tac-toe board (you can also use butter knives if your restaurant doesn’t provide straws).  Sugar packets, coins, or other small objects can be used for the “Xs” and Os”.

3. Menu missions - ask your kids to be detectives assigned to a top secret mission, using their menus to discover clues.  You can ask them questions, such as: What’s the most expensive item on the menu? What’s the least expensive item on the menu? If you have $40, what could you order? How many times can you find the word “fish”? (or any other word) Can you find all of the letters of the alphabet? How many “As” can you find? This variation can be played with multiples and they can “race” to find all of the letters!

4. I spy - another classic, this game is a favorite in our household because it can be played anywhere, no equipment necessary.

5. If you’re able to plan ahead (and we realize this isn’t always the case!) a small bag of activities can work wonders. Check out our blog about road trips with kids for some compact, travel-friendly ideas! Also don’t forget that you can build an activity packet right from our website. With coloring pages, mazes, cross-words, and more, these are sure to keep the kids occupied long enough for you to have an appetizer and dinner!

Good luck parents and happy dining!

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