Hubby and I are blessed to have a toddler full of personality and energy. It adds so much joy to our lives… except for when it comes to times we need her to just.sit.still. We love eating out, but doing so with a toddler is often more work than it’s worth. We don’t want to just shove a screen in her face (which only works for a short time anyway) but we struggled to keep her still (and happy) for more than a few minutes.
So I took to the internet, the local dollar store, Target, Walmart, eBay, Pinterest, you name it, trying to find ways to entertain my toddler through a meal. After weeks of searching, researching and shopping, I did it. I created the ultimate “sit still and eat your food” bag and it has changed our lives! *insert angels singing here*
Part of the magic is that the magic bag is kept only in her baby bag. None of the toys in here are played with at home. It makes it more alluring and gives the feel of it being a treat. As soon as she starts getting wiggly or cranky, out pops the bag and her little eyes light up. “Want to play, mommy?” Yes, my little one, I do.
Let me break down what is contained in the bag. You won’t believe just how much I’ve managed to cram in here. It’s like Hermione’s purse.
Puzzles: We love these because they’re very small and light and easy to take along without much bulk. We have both shape puzzles and a traditional puzzle. As she gets older, we will likely transition to tin puzzles with more pieces to keep her challenged and entertained, but these are great for now.
Peg board: My daughter LOVES this thing. She will play with it quietly and happily for the longest of all the toys in the bag. We do have to watch her carefully because the beads are small and prone to fall on the floor, but it’s so worth it. This toy is great for her fine motor skills and we also use it for patterns, counting and color sorting. *Note: perler beads and boards can also be used very similarly.*
Toy car: Any wheeled vehicle would work, maybe even two so you can have races across the table. I chose this one because it was colorful and cute, big enough to be spotted on a cluttered table but small enough to not take up much room in the bag. *Note: this also keeps husbands entertained, so that’s an added bonus.*
Crayons and notepads: Most restaurants give kids crayons, but usually only two or three and almost always in colors our kid doesn’t want. So we started bringing our own. Triangular-shaped crayons are great for travel because they don’t roll away, but our little one didn’t like the feel of them so we just bring a bunch and don’t worry if a few get lost along the way. We bring generic, blank notepads because she isn’t concerned with coloring inside the lines or even coloring specific designs. She likes to just scribble away. Sometimes we draw shapes and she names them and fills them in; sometimes we draw letters and help her trace them, but mostly it’s just her doodling. As she gets older, we will probably switch to mini coloring and/or activity books, but for now, these work great.
LEGO board and small bag of pieces: every kid loves LEGOs and they really are such a great toy for fine motor skills and creative thought. LEGOs can be tough for tiny hands, but Duplo is just too big to tote around, so we hit the Pick-A-Brick wall to choose chunky pieces in a variety of colors.
Play-Doh: I put a 2 oz. jar of Play-Doh into one of the little containers we used a lifetime ago to hold the homemade baby food I swore I would make and almost never did. It takes up less space than the jar and is still airtight to keep it from drying out. It’s also just the right amount to keep her (and Bubba) entertained without it getting everywhere.
Animal figurines: Any plastic play characters will work, but we chose a variety of animals and dinosaurs. She loves to play with these, especially with Bubba, and it gets her imagining going. The kids also like to press the animals into the Play-Doh to see what cool shapes and textures it creates. *Note: generic figurines are best. We once lost Peppa and even Amazon Prime could not replace that little pig fast enough*
This bag was a lot of trial and error, and I’m sure it will transform a few more times in the next few years, but, for the most part, this has been the magic mix. Having a large variety of items helps to keep her happy and entertained for longer periods. As she tires of one activity, there’s plenty more options to pop out and try. Admittedly, sometimes she wants nothing but to just GO, and no tablet, no combination of toys, no nothing is gonna keep her happy. But, for the most part and for a good while, our magic bag does its magic and we have a nice, peaceful family meal.
*Magic Bag was purchased at the Earsbyjuju Etsy shop*