Families often bond over the dinner table. But waiting for the food to arrive at a restaurant with high-energy, hungry kids can definitely make it feel more stressful.

Next time, while you wait, focus those energies into a constructive direction that draws the family into a shared goal. Build a tower or structure from everyday materials, either brought from home or grabbed right from the restaurant table. In any case, simple construction is a fun and memorable way to casually work in an activity that involves STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Just be ready for rapid pick-up when the plates of food arrive! 

Sturdy shapes: There are countless ways to use everyday, lightweight materials to form a structure or shape. 

For example, give this sturdy geodesic dome a try, using toothpicks and gumdrops. This is a great way to illustrate the strength of triangles, but it’s also one tabletop building project they can take home.

Or if you’re going out for pizza, borrow inspiration from this Italian chain, which will bring kids a ball of pizza dough to play with while they wait for their food. So request a bit of dough and with different lengths of drinking straws (brought and prepared from home), everyone will have plenty of fun building materials to work with.

Finally, a package of crafting material made with colored yarn and wax is easily manipulated and shaped into various designs. Take a look around, and the possibilities of creating on-the-go abound, including in the form of these 3-D shapes.  

Sugar packets: Here’s something the older kids can try while waiting for your pancakes to arrive at your favorite diner. Build a house of sugar packets while waiting for your food, just like singer-songwriter Andy Grammer. How tall can you go? Will neighboring tables donate their sugar packets to the structure? 

Pennies: Here’s another for lazy Saturday mornings at the diner. Tote along the penny jar and artfully stack and arrange loose change into bridges. Here, it’s all about balancing and precision.

Deck of cards: It’s smart to tote along a deck of cards when you’re on the go. You can use these instead of sugar packets to build that house of cards. And if tower-building gets stale, add a pair of dice and a printout of math challenges and simple games to make a quick math practice simple and fun.