Jul 8 2014

What’s in My Diaper Bag?

Dining Out with Young Kids

Tips for Packing Your Tote When Dining Out with Young Kids

When we dine out with our toddler daughter, there are a number of things I make sure are in the diaper bag to make it a happier dining experience for the entire family.   I’ll show you a few items on the “must have” list for the diaper-set crowd as well as offer tips to keep the older kids entertained. What’s in my diaper bag has evolved as my daughter has grown, things break, and we discover new, portable (and quiet!) items to make our dining out with kids a happier experience for all–so I’ll try to spotlight new finds in the blog whenever I can! I categorize the contents of our bag into a few different buckets:

1. Entertainment

We love anything small, portable and quiet.  The goal here is to be engaging enough for the little ones, but not so big or loud to disturb other diners.  I often cruise our local toy store’s bins of small toys for anything that keeps noise to a minimum, and am constantly working with a revolving set of toys (because let’s face it–my toddler may love one toy for 3 days in a row, but on the 4th day is on to the next big thing, or rediscover something she had no interest in 2 months ago, but has suddenly become her favorite thing on the planet). Items I always keep in rotation include:

  • Paper and crayons (for restaurants that don’t offer them)
  • Memory card matching games (my daughter will currently spend the entire meal with one we picked up in an Omni Hotel kid’s goodie bag)
  • Wind up toys (can never have enough of these–also great for fine motor skills as they get older)
  • Peg and pegboard set (great for learning colors, fine motor skills, can be used in multiple ways)
  • Cars and other figurines
  • Pocket etch a sketch (great for the older crew)
  • Silly putty (not as messy as play dough)
  • When in doubt, iPad, iphone, ipod, etc. (for us, this only comes out after our daughter has finished eating and we need an extra 10-15 minutes to finish our wine)

2. Tools to Minimize the Mess  

At 2, my daughter LOVES food.  But table manners aren’t really her strongest trait.  So, we have a couple of items with us at all times to help on that front, including:

  • Bibs. With pouches at the bottom to catch stray nuggets of food.
  • Placemats. While most restaurants do their very best to keep tables clean, I’ve waited and bussed way too many tables to feel comfortable with my gal eating straight off of the table. Much like the bibs, when close to home we use a reusable placemat that is dishwasher friendly and these great disposable placemats when we’re on the road
    • Whether disposable or reusable, make sure it sticks to the table, otherwise you risk the placemat–and everything on it–ending up on the floor
  • Wipes.  Lots and lots of wipes. Diaper wipes, face wipes, boogie wipes or a wet washcloth, all work–just make sure they are plentiful and sturdy enough to clean hands, face and the floor under your table when needed.

3. Edibles

While every parent wants to teach their child the value of patience and the general flow and rhythm of a dining out experience, the reality is that this is an ongoing process–especially when you’re dining out with a toddler.  Combine this with the fact that not every restaurant can rush your child’s meal out (and that you may not want them to, given the whole quest for patience thing), I always have a few edible tricks up my sleeve, including:

  • Goldfish crackers, the toddler diet staple (I opt for the whole grain variety and try to convince myself it is slightly better than the regular variety)
  • Fruit pouches, or as my daughter calls them, “pooches”.  A quick, easy and healthier option to the processed carbs, we especially love that they require no utensils. And once they learn to stop squeezing them to create a fruit puree geyser of epic proportions, they are mess-free.
  • Cheese sticks, apples, oranges and pretty much any other easily portable food.

4. Dining tools

In an ideal kid-friendly restaurant world, everyone would offer kiddie cups. But the reality is that most don’t.  And while it would be great if I could rest assured that my daughter could drink out of a grown up glass without possibly dropping or spilling it, that won’t be the reality for a little bit longer. So I always pack at least one sippy cup in my bag–usually pre-filled with water.

Some people like to bring along their own set of toddler-sized utensils. My daughter actually jumped directly from eating with her hands to using full-sized utensils. I didn’t object since it meant one less thing to bring along.

5. Diapers and more

At KidNosh, we consider a changing table in the bathroom to be the tipping point that earns a kid-friendly restaurant the coveted 5 spork kid-friendly dining rating. The service and kitchen at many of our favorite family restaurants are really, really great at catering to kids…but often the bathroom is not.

We don’t limit our restaurant options simply because we haven’t potty trained, so we’ve learned to come prepared and get creative. Since we don’t want whether or not they have a changing table to dictate our dining choices, I have one changing pad that I know is easily washed, and easily replaced.  This way in case of a diaper changing emergency, we can get down to business on the floor of the bathroom.

I also always have some form of diaper disposal bag to keep the not-so-appetizing smells contained…especially if you need to toss the dirty diaper in the bathroom trash.  Just as you don’t want your home smelling like a dirty diaper, your fellow diners don’t want the restaurant smelling like one.

What’s in your diaper bag?

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