Out-the-Door Box of busy toys

Keep busy toys handy so you can grab them on your way to the car with the  “out-the-door” box!

This post contains affiliate links

Kids do not like restaurants. Most kids anyway. I’m not sure what it is about a restaurant that makes a child feel like a caged animal longing to run free. Maybe it’s the high chairs. Whatever it is, keeping them occupied so you can actually EAT your meal- well, it’s an art form.

 Here is an easy hack for grabbing some ‘things to keep the kids busy’ on the way out the door.

I keep a ‘basket’ in the closet with our shoes and coats. It is full of all of the ‘portable’ and quiet things for my kids to do. It also has a “bag of bags” so I can quickly grab whichever size I need (usually based on how long we will be gone) and fill it full of toys right there at the door. It makes it easy to remember those last minute toys/crayons/books. Frankly, it keeps the toys out of my purse- which is already full of snacks and other miscellaneous small toys.

 Here are some ideas to fill the basket:

  • Crayons/pencils/markers
  • Coloring books/notepads
  • Anything Color Wonder
  • Etch-a-sketch
  • Aqua Doodle (restaurants will appreciate that this is a mess-free option!)
  • Small toys such as Little People or toy cars/trains
  • Activity pads
  • Sticker books
  • electronic devices (you may want to keep the chargers in this basket also)

busy activity box









Extra ideas:

New toys– Keeping some toys/activities kids have never seen before is a great trick to keep them busy. Add some toys to the box that they haven’t played with yet (maybe unopened ones). Dollar Tree is a great place to get a couple of inexpensive toys to keep in the box. You can also stash small gifts from their stocking/Easer/basket/birthday gifts. My kids get sooooo many little toys (on top of the big ones) that there is no way they would notice if a stash a few for a rainy day. If you don’t like the idea of new toys, you can also try adding some old ones they haven’t played with in a long time (it’s like re-new to little kids!).

Play-Doh– I buy those small packs of Play-Doh that are wrapped in plastic (see photo). They also sell “party packs” which are very small containers of Play-Doh in a variety of colors. They are very portable and add up to only about a handful of dough (so there’s less mess). I put a few of them in a paper roll tube and tape the end (so they don’t get smashed in transport- and so the kids don’t see it before you want them to). When you get to the bottom of your “bag of tricks” you can keep this as a last minute save. Hopefully their food will come soon…

playdough roll

Melissa & Doug

Melissa & Doug offers a lot of quiet, low-mess options that are very portable. I like Melissa & Doug because the brand is fun for the kids and also focuses on learning. Learning mats are a favorite portable, washable learning “toy”. Some other great Melissa & Doug toys for the “out-the-door” box: magnetic dress-up set, and reusable sticker pads (dress-up, animal habitats, sweets and treats). Our current favorite is the Make-A-Face sticker pad. Here’s what my little Picasso made:

 Melissa & Doug

 Melissa & Doug even has an Outlet section on their site now! Yay!

Affiliate link:

MelissaAndDoug.com- Over 2,000 Unique and Exciting Toys for Children of All Ages! Click here!

I will keep adding ideas here on things to add to this box. I know how important it is to have a few quiet minutes to eat your meal, start dinner, check your email, pay a bill, or even just stare into space… !

What do you do to keep your kids busy in a restaurant (or while you shop/cook/clean, etc.)? I am always looking for something that holds their interest! Please share under “Leave a Comment” below!

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The Happy Mom System


  1. Brandi P says:

    We download movies or educational games on our phones or the ipad. A good site is starfall.com, we also brought a small box of legos for building while in a restaurant.

    • HappyPlace Mom says:

      Great ideas! Legos would be great addition to the out-the-door box! Fun and educational!Thanks!

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