Christmas lunch with a toddler: 5 table games that’ll help you get through it

Greetings fellow earthlings. ‘Tis the season to sit around a table ramming ourselves full to the brim with meat, veggies, stuffing, cheese, port, Christmas pudding, trifle, a variety of chocolate and whatever else we can lay our hands on.

In many ways this is exciting, but when you are the guardian of a living, breathing, screaming-fit-throwing 22-month-old it is also wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-in-a-cold-sweat daunting. Just how do parents make it through Christmas lunch with a toddler without raising their blood pressure to dangerous levels or losing the plot completely?

The most obvious answer is technology. Sit your teeny tot down, plug them in and then mainline your meat and drink of choice until the gizmo’s battery runs out or, equally terrifyingly, there’s some kind of issue with streaming.

I’ll be honest and say that parenting by gadget is not my cup of tea, but if you want to do it, do it. It’s your life and your kid. And if you don’t? Then step right in while I give you an insight in to the games my wife and I have come up with to get us through Christmas lunch with a toddler*.

1. Peekaboo napkin

Even if you’ve never played this game, you can probably guess the drill. Round one sees you get your toddler’s attention, hide behind your napkin and then pop out and cry “peekaboo”. And round two sees your toddler fail miserably to hide behind a napkin, look really pleased and then shout “peekboo”.

Note I: when doing Christmas lunch with a toddler napkins can be replaced by paper hats, banner or the 99p sunglasses that came out of your cracker.

Note II: the older your kid gets, the less this game will work.

Note III: you will get bored long before your toddler does.

2. Find the card

The upside of this game is that is takes up a lot of time, boosts your little one’s fine motor skills and involves very little effort on your part. The downside is that the contents of your wallet could end up being hurled into a stranger’s chicken katsu curry (true story: Wagamama London Southbank 22/11/17).

Read that disclaimer and still up for it? Great, then here’s how it works. Show your child one of your library/gym membership/supermarket points reward/credit cards (we use my Costco card, as it has my picture on it) put it back in your wallet and then challenge your little one to “find the card”. When they do, cheer and high five them. Then put the card back and do it all over again and again and again and again and again…

For the record, this game isn’t a one-trick Christmas lunch with a toddler pony. It’s also done the business for us during nappy changes and traffic jams.

3. Which hand?

First, grab a small-ish object from the kitchen or table (e.g. a teaspoon, wrapped sweet or salt sachet). Second, put it one of your hands and clench your fist. Third, show your fists to your kid and ask them to pick one. If they pick the correct one, celebrate and then begin the game again. If they don’t, get them to pick the other hand, celebrate and then begin the game again.

Note I: over the top celebrations and overtly happy facial expressions are key for keeping your kid’s interest in this game.

Note II: if your kid’s anything like mine, he or she will pick the same hand every single time.

4. The alternative ice bucket challenge

Good news, adults. This game is less about raising money for charity by having ice-cold water poured over you, and more about getting your kid to put an ice cube in an ice bucket (or some other kind of jar, bowl or glass).

So far, so easy, but here’s the key rule. Instead of calling upon their hands, your son or daughter must perform the act using a set of tongs. Ooh, that sounds hard. It is. In my experience it will take your pride and joy 10-15 minutes to get to grips with this, so a) watch out for flying ice during the first few runs, and b) make sure you take a video of their massive smile of achievement when they eventually get the ice to its selected destination. Like my one at the top of the page? Yes, just like my one at the top of the page.

5. The impossible to open jar

Behold the small pot of snacks, marmalade or pepper that is usually easy to open, but for the next 10 minutes IS ACTUALLY THE HARDEST THING TO TWIST IN THE WORLD EVER. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Mummy can’t open it. Or Bubby. Or Daddy. Or Granny. Or Bubby again. Or the waiter. Or bubby for a third time. Or the guy at the next table…

You get the picture. This Christmas lunch with a toddler game can go as far as your imagination and the laws of the country allow – from napkins for “extra grip” to two people trying to open the pot at the same time via choreographed chanting and wrestling-style elbow drops (although the last of these is probably a move for your own home rather than a Michelin-starred restaurant).

And that’s it. Explanations over. Post over. Games over. Commit them to your memory, source the utensils and then go out there and prepare to absolutely own Christmas lunch with a toddler. Or, you know, ensure that it is at least an hour before they start to do this.

Enjoy and good luck.


*bonus special Christmas pressie. These games DON’T just apply to Christmas lunch. You can (and we do) bust them out whenever you eat out.



  1. […] Yesterday, for example, I found myself starting down the barrel of this very predicament. The clock was ticking. My son was getting agitated. My wife was staring at me in the way partner’s do when they want you to do something. And then… …a flash of inspiration. I rushed to the cafe’s condiments and cutlery counter, grabbed as many milk capsules as I could fit into my hands, sprinted back to the table and set about creating the latest entry in my series of games for entertaining toddlers. […]

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