When packing a tote for a day with your toddler, there's no shortage of goodies to pick from. From band-aids to lip balm and fruit snacks to sunscreen, it seems that everyone's selling a new must-have product to stash away in your purse. Leave the item du jour behind, and you're destined for a morning of meltdowns and misery.
But is prepping for a day out like you're readying for battle really the best approach? In a now-famous study—first published in 2000 by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—researchers observed grocery store customers shopping for jam. Their study shows that having too many choices overwhelmed and exhausted the shoppers, preventing them from acting quickly and decisively—if at all. In other words, it created exactly what we don't want to happen when a tot's screeching for a snack.
Instead of over-preparing for a day out, choose wisely. Streamline the items in your carry-all by strategically selecting a few key products to take along, and leave the rest behind without regret. To help you find the essentials, here are eight true must-haves for a toddler tote:
- Tiny bites. Choose a snack your little one likes for when that "quick trip" to the mall turns into an all-day affair. Hunger is a frequent cause of tantrums, so have the food easily accessible to prevent a meltdown. Adhering to your kid's palate and dietary needs, aim for non-perishable foods that travel well, such as granola bars or dried fruit. Store smaller snacks in clear plastic containers, which hold their shape in a purse (preventing crackers from crumbling) and make it easy to see what's inside.
- Sunscreen. Keep your toddler's sensitive skin safe with this oft-forgotten pick, which makes all the difference when you're trapped outside on a hot day. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends trying a kid-friendly spray formula with an SPF of at least 30. Reapply, cautions the AAD, "approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating." To avoid leaks, place a thin layer of plastic wrap underneath the sunscreen cap and double bag it before storing in your tote.
- Sippy cup. Skip the risk of a leaky water bottle or drippy juice box. Instead opt for a refillable, empty sippy cup that'll ensure your toddler stays hydrated. Be sure to choose a cup with a tight-locking lid that fits well in your child's hands. To avoid paying for water each time you need to refill, use a water fountain or ask a restaurant for free tap water.
- Cell phone. This is one of the most important tools in your arsenal, since your phone doubles as a camera, notepad, emergency contact list, and—if you've got a smart phone—music player and internet browser. Store a copy of your little one's health information and allergies on your phone in case of an emergency. To avoid any electronic malfunctions, encase your cell in a water-resistant cover, and give it a specific spot in your bag to ensure easy access. If you're worried about losing power, buy a travel charger to carry with you. Keep it neat by securing cords with rubber bands or twist-ties.
- Diapers. Whether your tot's still in diapers, fully potty-trained or somewhere in-between, it's a good idea to have a spare stash of diapers on hand, in the case of a potty problem. Store diapers in large plastic bags, which will allow you to keep track of how many are left, and helps reduce germs.
- Wipes. More than just a companion to diapers, wipes are the super-product of versatility. Use them for everything from mopping up spills to scrubbing down sneakers, and be prepared to pack extra anytime chocolate might appear! Choose wipes in slim packages that allow you to re-seal when done to help prevent these pre-moistened miracles from drying out.
- Toys. Resist the urge to cram all your toddler's favorite Legos in the bottom of your purse, only to sit unused and forgotten for weeks on end. Instead, select one or two toys that don't see much playtime at home to pack. This way, these lacing cards will seem extra special when you whip them out. Seek out toys that are compact and durable with few breakable parts—think slinky over action figure—and store in a clear sandwich bag to reduce wear and tear.
- Electronic fun. If it's in your budget, consider adding a techie toy as well. Having an e-reader or similar device at the ready gives you access to hundreds of downloadable children's books—perfect for instant story-time when you're stuck on a train or subway. Looking for a less expensive and more old-fashioned fix? Carry a notebook and a pack of new crayons for hours of creativity. To keep from staining your purse, store crayons in a sturdy pouch or baggie.
Though the list above is a great jumping off point, remember that it's flexible and meant to be altered to fit your lifestyle. For example, you might add first aid gear that's tailored to your child's needs. The important thing isn't that you hit every item exactly as specified, but rather that you plan ahead to streamline the process of traveling with toddlers. Thinking through what works best for you and your tot means happy trailblazing for you both.