Guest blogger Emily Knight of Our Knight Life shares tips on how to keep your kids entertained while dining out.

I remember after I had my son I thought our days of eating out at restaurants were numbered. The very thought of taking your child to a restaurant can often seem like more work than it is worth. Without proper planning you can end up thinking you will never be able to go out in public again! However, dining out is something my whole family loves to do; it doesn’t have to be scary. Once you have printed out your dining certificate from some simple planning and packing ahead will allow you to enjoy dining out with your kids and get a break from cooking at home.

Play with the items on the table
This is how we start out our dining experience. I figure we might as well embrace it as opposed to trying to keep them from touching things the whole time we are out. After establishing boundaries before he begins playing like a no opening rule, we let our son play! Here are some ways you can get creative with table top items.

1. Trace them items onto a blank piece of paper and allow your child to match them up and color them in. This can be done with sugar packets, salt & pepper shakers, ketchup bottles, silverware, and really anything you can find on the table.
2. Line up all the bottles and containers on the table and ask your child to re-arrange them in order of short to tall or in color progression.
3. Mix all the sugar packets up, and then have your child separate them according to colors.
4. Create paper accordions, inch worms, or flowers using straw wrappers and napkins.
Involve your child in the menu – I like to tell my son he has to have one food from each food group. We then look at the menu and build his dinner. He loves having the options. If your child is younger you can simplify this by giving them two choices of what to eat. Don’t feel like you have to order off of the kids menu. Exploring the whole menu will help your child develop a love of food. While they are making their choices talk to them about the colors of the food and where the food comes from. By the time the food arrives, my son is so excited to see what he put together.

Create a fun kit for kids
This is something I recently started to do. In my purse/diaper bag I have a zippered pouch of items that only come out during restaurant visits or long doctor’s office waits. My Fun Kit includes:

1. A small spiral notebook
2. Crayons
3. Stickers
4. Memory card game
5. Pipe cleaners
6. Lace cards
7. Small dollar store toys. (In fact, my whole kit is made from items at the dollar store so they can easily be replaced and there is no worry of losing anything or getting it dirty.)

Play Classic Games
These games are games we all know and require absolutely no pre-packing or planning.
1. I-Spy – ask your child to identify different items you find around the restaurant.
2. Alphabet Game – Look around the restaurant to find items that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Take turns around the table.

Save the technology for after dinner
If you child is anything like mine, they can play on the phone or iPad for days. Since restaurants usually bring children’s food first, they are usually the first one done. This is the time I break out the technology. Puzzle games, books, numbers apps, matching games, and songs can keep my son entertained and allow my husband and me to enjoy the rest of our food and even some adult conversation!

One final tip
Before you plan your next family evening out, make sure you go at the right time! Especially with young children, attempting to go to out to eat during nap times or close to bed time is a recipe for disaster no matter how prepared you are.

Did we miss a tip? Do you have a go-to trick for keeping kids entertained at a restaurant? Share it below!

Emily is a ambassador who lives in Las Vegas with her husband, 3 year old son, and is expecting baby boy #2 in December. You can read more fun parenting tips from Emily on her blog Our Knight Life where she documents her family and life in Las Vegas. You can also find Emily on Twitter @FamilyNLifeLV and Facebook.