Toddler Must-Haves for Playtime, Meals, Travel, Baths & Bedtime

Toddlers can be a handful—and sometimes an armful, like when you’re holding your child like a surfboard while they’re in a full-on tantrum meltdown. But with the right toys, activities and products, you can keep your child engaged and excited, learning and laughing. Read on for our favorite mom-approved, toddler-friendly products for travel, playdates, meals, baths, bedtime and more.

photo: iStock

On the Go/Travel

Having the right supplies on hand for an outing or trip with your toddler can make the journey doable or (dare I say) enjoyable for you both! Stock your bag, stock the car seat,  and be prepared. Just think of it as meltdown prevention.

When you’re on the move, waiting for an appointment, or otherwise needing a quiet moment while running errands, traveling or working, these must-haves make time away from home go a lot more smoothly:

photo: Lakeshore Learning Materials

My First Magic Board from Lakeshore Learning is a toddler-friendly, easy-to-use miracle, with endless drawing possibilities and zero mess. Plus, it’s pretty flat and can slide right into your bag next to your laptop, or, for toddlers who are into the word “mine” (which they all are), they can carry it themselves with the handy handle. Play together by drawing shapes for your toddler to guess and copy, or tracing hands or feet. Ready for the next drawing? Use the easy-slide eraser to clear the drawing space. And as your buddy grows, the board is going to be great for practicing numbers and letters!

Let me guess; your little one is into cars, trains, tractors and all things that go. Take that obsession on the move with a creative playmat like the Around the Town Play Carpet, also from Lakeshore Learning. This colorful, engaging play inspiration is almost 5 feet long and features grips on the underside to prevent slipping. Great for giving your child a clean, soft surface to play on when you’re on-the-go; just roll it up and throw it in your bag. And then (thank goodness!) throw it in your washing machine for a quick cleaning.

Toddlers get hungry. All. The. Time. And the difference between having a bag of fruit snacks or not having a bag of fruit snacks can mean the world when it’s almost your turn at the checkout counter of the very busy dry cleaner and your toddler declares war on the moment with the beginning of a tantrum. Pack those snacks, mamas, and pack them in a toddler-friendly way. The easier it can be for you to grab and for them to maneuver, the better for you both. These finger-friendly Toddler Snack Cups from Skip Hop are not only useful but fun to have and hold too!

Juice, water or milk on the move? Try the CamelBack Eddy Kids Water Bottle (which comes in so many designs, you’ll have trouble choosing which you like most) or the Munchkin Miracle 360 Sippy Cup, which helps your buddy learn to use a real cup without the possibility of a spill.

Learning and Development

Colors, shapes, letters, numbers, songs, dances, animal sounds…the list goes on and on as to what your toddler knows and wants to know. Here are a few great activities to help your toddler’s learning journey:

photo: Lovevery

The most basic of all toys since the beginning of toys is blocks. They teach colors, sorting, stacking, building, categorizing, counting skills and so much more. But do they have to be toxic plastic blocks in four primary colors that always seem to get lost somewhere inside the couch? No! Lovevery has introduced The Block Set, a beautiful 70-piece wooden block set with 18 different shapes and in 18 different hues of water-based, non-toxic paint. The set comes in a beautiful wooden box that converts into a pull car, and also includes a drawstring cotton bag for flexible storage. They’ve thought of everything with this set, including a guide that features more than 20 fun learning and developmental activities that grow with your child from 18 to 48 months. And for you Type-A mamas out there, the every-piece-fits-snugly-in-the-box design makes cleanup sort of fun, like a game of colorful, beautiful Tetris.

Speaking of Lovevery, another item to add to your toddler mom list is the Lovevery subscription service, The Play Kits, which delivers a box every three months that is tailor-made to your child’s current developmental stage, each piece thoughtfully created and selected to be lasting toys for your child’s collection, encouraging learning and creativity now and growing with them to still be meaningful toys months and years down the road.

Toxic, chemical-filled dough at playtime? No thanks! Try Eco-Dough, sculpting doughs made with natural and recycled materials and colored with dyes from fruits and vegetables. The set comes with six lovely colors in resealable and reusable jars and are handmade in Portland by a mama who knows the importance of balancing fun and quality when it comes to toddlers.

Toddlers love to put things into things, whether it’s pouring water into a cup or sand into a bucket, placing toys into a box, or dropping your phone into the toilet. In fact, they sometimes resemble mini hoarders with their desire to carry and hold things as their own. Did you know that this is called the “Load and Tote Phase” of development? Encourage this exploration with the most handy carrying tool you’ll find: the Collapsible Beach Pail from Uncommon Goods. Sure, it’s a beach pail, but in addition to carrying water and sand, it’s perfect for toting bath toys, books, and any other items that a toddler has declared “mine” from point A to B to Z and every stop in between. The best part: It collapses flat for easy storage and packing.


Meals at home and at (gulp) restaurants can be less stressful and a lot less messy with the right set of tools on hand, including items that make sitting at the table fun and eating food simpler. Here are our favorite mealtime must-haves:

photo: Uncommon Goods

It’s no wonder meals can be stressful—all these new colors, flavors and textures, and kids have to figure out how to hold this fork, and drink out of that cup, and sit still in their chair, and….whew. Bring fun back to mealtime (and also encourage staying in one place to eat!) with a Mr. (or Mrs.) Food Face Plate by Fred & Friends. If mealtimes are fun, toddlers are more likely to try that “weird green thing” you’re serving up tonight.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of learning to use silverware, which can be frustrating for little fingers. Gerber Graduates Kiddy Forks, with soft plastic handles, are a great start, and the Raise Toddler Forks and Spoons sport an ingenious design that keeps the utensil tip off the table (or floor) and away from germs. For whatever reason, toddlers like to sling a full plate of food off onto the floor (it’s the age of “what will happen if I…”), so make sure you have a few suction plates, like these from Bumkins (which are BPA free and dishwasher-safe) to keep food on the table.

Check out more of our favorite toddler bowls, plates, cups and utensils.

Bathtime and Bedtime

Ah, bedtime is just around the corner, and you can see that quiet house, glass of wine, and Netflix queue in your near future. But first, you have to help your little darling through the bath and bedtime routine. Pretty soon, they’ll be doing this all on their own, and you’ll long for the days of toothbrush wrangling and bath towel snuggles. But for now, you’re in the trenches, mama, so here are a few products that can help your toddler learn the ropes and you keep your sanity:

photo: Uncommon Goods

A regular bath? Boring! A multicolored, glowing bath of fun? Yes! Uncommon Goods’ Glowing Bath Time Pals and Glowing Bath Time Buddies are water-activated, turning your toddler’s bath time into a brand new experience! Usable again and again and offering a new sensory opportunity, these are a must-have for baths.

Grab a Moby Scoop and Splash Bath Toy Organizer from Skip Hop to do a quick cleanup and hang to dry for next time. We love how quickly you can scoop up toys while letting water drain from the mesh bottom, and that it adheres to the tub wall for space-saving, mess-free storage.

And then, of course, it’s time to brush those toddler teeth, which is a challenge because A. they don’t want to do it, and B. they don’t want to do it. Make it fun with a colorful brush, like Brusheez Kids Electric Toothbrush Set (cup included!), which feature a friendly animal to encourage brushing. And while most adult toothpastes are not recommended for toddlers (at least until they learn to spit out any fluoride-containing paste), Hello Fluoride-Free Toothpaste in yummy flavors like watermelon and strawberry will seem like a treat (and help your buddy learn the basics of brushing with regular use).


Bedtime already? You made it, mama! There isn’t a better sound machine around than the Hatch Baby Rest, customizable with color, brightness, sound and volume, and controllable remotely from your phone. It’s genius. You can even program it to set an okay-to-rise sound/color combo so your toddler knows exactly when it’s time to leap from their beds, demanding juice, cereal and Little Baby Bum.

Check out more of our favorite sound machines and white noise machines.

All of a sudden, these little people in our lives are going to be big kids, so savor every moment you can. Sure, there are tantrums and meltdowns, but there are also snuggles, kisses, hugs, laughs, dances and the privilege of being able to watch little ones discover the world around them.

featured photo: Lovevery

—Laura Holloway


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