The Out To Dinner Bag


Someone I admire and respect a lot, met our little family for an early dinner the other night.
By the time we arrived at the casual pasta place around the corner from our home, I knew I would be lucky if I had even remembered to pack diapers.  It had been one of those days.  One of those days where your baby has a blow out, most likely because it’s the first day you have forgotten to pack an extra outfit. One of those days where you forget to put your kids lunch in his backpack before he heads off to school. One of those days where you leave your keys in the front door for over an hour (shh, don’t tell Ben about that one).  So yeah, it was one of those days.

And when Pam (the gal I respect a lot) showed up for our dinner and pulled out some simple coloring pages and a pencil to keep my already anxious 3-year-old boy busy, my first reaction was: I should have thought of that.

Throughout our meal, just as Wesley began to become distracted or disinterested, Pam pulled out yet another very simple toy or activity from her Mary Poppins bag and then she redirected him to stay engaged in our “out-to-dinner-expereience”.

Two more bites, and then you can draw us a circle.
Ok, two more bites and then you can color in this picture.
Two more bites and then I’ll let you use the pen.

Watching Wesley finish his meal and stay seated for the duration of our stay was a bit of a miracle. Going out to eat hasn’t exactly been an enjoyable experience for us over the last three years. Dinner usually ends with one of us staying to pay the bill and ask to get our food to-go, while the other heads to the car with an unhappy toddler. But this little experience was giving us hope. We left that dinner with homework. Homework to put together a regular “out to dinner bag” with specific, simple activities designed to help Wesley stay on his best behavior. It was such a simple concept. And it’s not as if I had never attempted to bring something to entertain Wes while we’re out (ahem, iPad), but I suppose I had never made such a deliberate a purposeful effort to select items I knew would engage his active mind and body.

So I went home, and this is what I came up with. And then I tested it. We had to eat out every night last week, as our house had been covered in tarps and wet paint for 4 days–so with us, the bag went.  It worked.  I took some items out, added a few others, until I ended up with what you see below.  The key for me, was not letting him pick things from the bag himself and not allowing him to pull out multiple items at once unless they went together.  As a reward for good behavior, I would sometimes pull out two items and allow him to chose the one he wanted to play with most. Even though it wasn’t always pretty, we made it through every dinner last week.

I realize what I’m suggesting may be against many peoples “every-parenting-rule-ever-made”.  And in a perfect world, my children would sit quietly enjoying their meal following my every request. But my parenting isn’t perfect, its real–and this is what works for our family.  It might not works for yours. We’re all different, and that’s what makes us beautiful.

This bag stays in my trunk so that it is ready whenever we need it.  I think I am going to pack a second bag as well, for variety. Here is a quick explanation on the items I selected:


1. Sliding Flashcards: The novelty of “sliding” is the element of interest to Wesley with these cards. He loves to take guesses at what he’ll find inside.
2. Stickers: I pack a single sheet of his favorite stickers (more than one sheet would be overwhelming).  He can put the stickers on the place mat or on a disposable paper menu from the restaurant.
3. Coloring Book: I don’t hand Wesley the entire coloring book because he tends to get distracted by too many options. Rather, I pull out one sheet at a time, and then he will put more attention and effort into completing a single coloring page.
4: Play-Doh:  This is a last resort, because it can be messy and it collects anything it touches–but when all else fails, I pull out the Play-doh. It’s his favorite. We make snakes, and play food and shapes.
5. Washi Tape: This is my favorite. And it allows him to be the most creative.  The best thing about Washi tape is that it doesn’t ruin any surface it sticks to, and it is very easily removable (a lot like painters tape).  I break off about a dozen 2 inch strips and allow Wesley to create a small train track on the table. Then he can use one of his toy trains (not pictured) to run the course he designed. Then I quickly peel it up before we leave.
6. ABC Flashcards: Wesley likes to flip through these, stack them, organize them, and even quiz us on what the cards say.
7. Disposable Place Mats: I just got these, and I’m anxious to give them a try–especially for Sawyer, who isn’t eating from a plate yet.  They stick to the table so that they don’t slide around and fall onto the ground.
8. Lolipop: Reward for good behavior, AFTER dinner.
9. Twisting Crayons: Way better than regular crayons because I don’t worry about them breaking or getting dull.

I’m so proud of this kid.  Every day he teaches me to be better. He has my heart in a way I’ll never be able to put into words. And he’s growing up right before my eyes. Too fast I tell ya, too fast.






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  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 5:58 am

    As a server who has had to deal with a million toddler and child melt downs, thank you for being one of the few prepared parents. Why would a parent expect a child to sit quietly for an hour and not want to get up, move, be entertained, etc? And I appreciate you not just throwing a screen in front of him. I love seeing families actually interact with one another. Its becoming more and more rare.

  • Reply
    lucy at dear beautiful
    March 26, 2013 at 7:28 am

    We have a bag of goodies for when we are out and about too. It has been a godsend on more than one occasion. Thanks for sharing what you have in yours, it’s given me some extra ideas to add to mine. I find the paper and crayons are always a favourite in ours, but I’ve never taken playdoh. I’m pretty sure nothing else would get a look in, so I might pack some right in the bottom for when I’ve tried everything else. X

  • Reply
    Heather @ Life as we know it...
    March 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Mugabe try silly putty instead of the playdoh if it becomes a problem. My mom recently got the kids each on little egg of silly putty (from the Dollar Store I’m sure) and they love it. It is much easier to keep mess free & still can be used somewhat like Playdoh. We love using bags like this to keep the kids entertained out to eat, too!

  • Reply
    Heather @ Life as we know it...
    March 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

    P.S. no clue on the autocorrect from maybe to Mugabe. Oops.

  • Reply
    Amy Bruce
    March 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

    In a MOPS group a couple years ago we all made restaurant kits – similar to what you have here. At the time my daughter was still a baby so I made them as a gift for my SIL whose kids were older. They work GREAT! We used plastic shoe boxes but filled them with similar things – crayons, coloring pages, stickers, etc. This year with my kids older, I FINALLY got around to making one myself and keep it in my car for this same thing! It’s a LIFESAVER! Love the idea of the playdough and the silly putty too!

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    We have a similar bag packed for church. It works well. I like the idea of having two bags to give variety. My mom got my 20 month old daughter a pack of those dispsoable placemats; we keep them in the diaper bag, they TOTALLY ROCK!

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Every time I read one of your posts about your kiddos you really do inspire me to be a better parent! I LOVE these ideas. I have an almost 5 year old and a 1 year old and I hadn’t even thought about a couple of these ideas. Play doh? Washi tape? Where have I been! Love how real and honest you are!

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the tips. My little one is 16 months and we have gotten into the not so good habit of handing him our iphone so that he can watch a show. I think he may be too young for some of the items above (he tries to eat play doh and crayons LOL), but I will totally keep them in mind when he is Wesley’s age.

    Thanks again for always being so real! Love your blog 🙂

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    What a killer idea! I always have a few random things in my purse but have never intentionally thought to pack stuff just for the kids. You’re going to LOVE the placemats — Chick-Fil-A has them and I’ve always thought they were the best! I’m thinking this will be a great addition to our dinners out (um, we eat out A LOT). Our kids usually do pretty well but they aways hit a point where they’re just done eating and done sitting and the kid menu coloring gets old FAST.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    what a great idea! Out to dinner bag!! so much better than handing a kid an iphone or having to deal with screaming crying bored meltdowns 🙂

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    we also had some cheerios in baggy and some chenille stems. depending on whether or not they wanted to eat them or string them on the chenille stems they became something to make the transition until we were served or a dexterity and counting exercise.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Omg! How have I never thought of this!? With 3 kids under 3, this wil
    Be perfect! Thank you for sharing! And where did younger the bag? You always have the most adorable things!! 🙂 thanks again for sharing! 🙂

  • Reply
    March 26, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    This is such a great idea!! I am going to try this. We rarely eat out, b/c my 2 year old only lasts about 15 minutes, and have many times went through what you just decribed. Fab idea, thanks to Pam too!!!!



  • Reply
    March 27, 2013 at 12:01 am

    I agree with the bag 100% as a grand mother it is tried and true. I agree with another poster here that silly putty will make you happier. We always packed grapes cut up and cheerio’s or dried cereals of choice to keep the little ones happy before their appetizer arrived. The bites then a new drawing on the place mat, which sometimes I provided was always a must have. I made them from packing that we got in shipments. Just used pinking sheers to fancy up the edges. Now your meals will be great. Also notice the lighting and atmosphere in the restaurants that work well. We noticed that other than Moe’s anything too busy distracted and darker restaurants were a no go. Best of luck.

  • Reply
    March 27, 2013 at 2:43 am

    You are such a great Mother!

  • Reply
    March 27, 2013 at 3:06 am

    A happy child means a happy momma! I have a 4 year old son and I totally believe in being prepared. I keep a bag in my car at all times! Google: busy bags. There are tons of ideas for little ones! Recently we went to PF Changs and they gave him wiki stiks. These things are so cool, mason loved them!

  • Reply
    March 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    We have one of these bags, too! I also have a “baseball” bag to keep my girls busy during my son’s practices and games. Definitely a fantastic idea! We get those coloring book/sticker pouches that are always in the Target dollar spot. I pick them up whenever they have them!

  • Reply
    March 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Thanks to Pinterest I did something similar for my toddler. I went to the dollar store and got some of those 3-ring binder zip pouches and each one has a different activity. So I’ll just pull one of those out of the diaper bag 🙂 It’s the little things right?

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    March 27, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Your an amazing mom Ashley!!! Such a great idea to keep him busy!

  • Reply
    April 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

    What should be in your bag? it is not an easy question to answer. If we check ladies handbag or purse then we can realize how much unnecessary items carried. It is an art to carry valuable and indeed helpful items in purse. For little kids you are expert to list out the items.

  • Reply
    April 4, 2013 at 2:44 am

    This is such a great idea! I’m going to make one right now! And one for the younger kiddo too. Thanks!

  • Reply
    April 7, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I have been using the disposable mats for almost two years now. They are the greatest thing created. You don’t have to worry about your kids eating off the table (for the little ones) or touching a dirty table.
    I love the idea that you keep it in the car. I think I am going to start doing that… it means that no matter where we are it will be readily available!

  • Reply
    April 8, 2013 at 3:41 am

    We have a “restaurant bag” too. It’s been a lifesaver. My oldest daughter is now 6 so I have a little collection of stuff that I rotate. The other key is that they do not get to play with those items at home so they stay fresh. Another favorite item is the character books with cardboard like pages that you use a water pen. Kind of like Aquadoodle pens. I also have magnet books and reusable sticker kits.
    It bothers me seeing kids w/electronics b/c the majority of the time they are ignored by the adults. These kit bags still allow you to interact.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2013 at 3:49 am

    I really love ur sliding flash cards but can’t seem to find them anywhere online. Do u remember where you found them?

  • Reply
    Lego video games
    October 8, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks for finally talking about >Packing a bag to keep kids busy at dinner <Loved it!

  • Reply
    24 inches weave hair
    September 29, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    happy photo

  • Reply
    24 inches weave hair
    September 29, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    happy photo

  • Reply
    20 inches weave hair
    September 29, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    The picture creates a sense of innocence

  • Reply
    March 21, 2020 at 10:29 am

    “I love the idea of movement, but this White Bandage Dress can be especially difficult to achieve with a knit because they’re all

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