Good Papa and I were real “foodies” before W was born.
Now that W has come into our lives, however, we have had to significantly cut back on dining out. Although homemade meals are healthier and more cost-efficient, nothing beats sitting back, trying new flavors, all while enjoying the atmosphere of a restaurant. To keep one of our favorite pastimes alive, we have discovered some tips for a less-stressful dining experience with baby.
1. Time your meal wisely
You know your child best. You know what they turn into when it is past their naptime/bedtime.
I call W “the joker” when he gets overtired. People always give me a funny look when I tell them oh, he’s just tired, while W is simultaneously clapping his hands together, kicking his feet, and hysterically laughing. He also likes to scream at the top of his lungs to see just how loud his voice can go (really, really loud).
No one wants to eat with “the joker.” So, I make sure to plan meals out around W’s schedule. If we want to go out for lunch, I plan for the time a little bit before W usually eats his lunch. If we want to go out to dinner, I plan for the time a little bit before W usually eats his dinner. It may be tough to arrange a dinner with friends who would rather eat at a normal hour as opposed to hitting up an early bird special. Although, I’d be willing to bet those same friends would choose to eat a nice, remotely peaceful meal as opposed to one in Gotham City.
2. Give your baby a chance to move before you sit down to eat
Movement was crucial back when I taught kindergarten (e.g. sit on the carpet for a short story, move to desks for some independent work, move to a different spot in the classroom for some group work). I would be absolutely nuts if I tried to force a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds to sit at their desk for an hour.
If your child goes from sitting in the car seat, to sitting in the stroller, to sitting in the high chair, they are bound to get antsy. I know I would! If you have a crawler, give your baby plenty of time to crawl and climb before you head out to the restaurant. If you have a walker, try finding a park near the restaurant so they can get all their energy out before you demand they sit down for a meal.
3. Choose your restaurant wisely
An intimate, romantic restaurant with white-linen table cloths is not the most kid-friendly place in the world. The last thing a couple wants to hear/see on a date night “without” kids is a bunch of noisy, messy kids at the next table over.
We tend to take W to casual, bar restaurants. They are usually noisy and inexpensive- most people probably wouldn’t even notice a child.
When the weather is nice, we prefer to sit outside. There are a lot more sights and sounds to keep W’s attention.
Additionally, a restaurant with live music (not too loud for young ears) can be the perfect place for a young child. The other night we took a trip to the burbs for an amazing meal at the newly-renovated Blue Bell Inn located in Blue Bell, PA. We enjoyed the beautiful weather while W was just mesmerized by the band.
4. Be prepared for a wait
I usually bring some toys to occupy W’s attention when we first get to the restaurant. New toys or even “special” toys that only come out during restaurant outings are perfect for keeping a baby’s attention.
For younger babies, the linking toys are the best. You can attach the toy to the high chair to prevent the baby from throwing the toys on the ground. Babies just LOVE that game!
Now, W is an amazing eater. I really don’t have to worry about finding something for him to eat off most menus. We try to order meals that are easily shared. It doesn’t hurt to ask the waiter to see if they could whip up a side of veggies or fruit or even grilled chicken. They are usually very accommodating.
As I’m sure you know- babies aren’t the most patient beings in the world. Once W realizes that it’s time to eat… it’s time to eat! I usually pack some bite-sized pieces of fruit or meat.
For last minute outings, I always pack the baby mum-mum’s and/or puffs. I don’t give them to W often, so they are a special treat that keeps him very happy. A straw cup is a life-saver. W likes to drink from a regular cup while at home, but this can be dangerously messy. For this reason, I make sure to pack a straw cup with a lid that closes to prevent any spills.
5. Tools to help keep baby and restaurant clean
W likes to make a HUGE mess at home. The dog likes when W makes a HUGE mess at home. The mess magically disappears off the floor at home. Yeah for Zig- our own Roomba! Unfortunately, I know of no restaurant that hires little, worker dogs to clean up after baby. Instead, I bring particular tools to keep the floor of the restaurant fairly clean.
The Food Catcher Bib is an amazing product that helps contain the mess of a dining baby. It is a durable bib that has a little upturned lip at the bottom to “catch” all of the food that may have missed the baby’s mouth (for W, that’s quite a lot of food). W always checks his bib for leftovers. I just wash it off with soap and hot water; no tough stains to remove! I purchased two bibs at the most adorable family store, Ali’s Wagon, located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, but you can find them at most baby retailers.
Table Toppers are another great product I saw another mom use at a Mommy and Me lunch last week. They are a disposable placemat that you can stick to the table. They come in a bunch of different colors and patterns. Once I saw the other mom using it with her son, I went straight home and order a bunch. I’ll let you know how we like them when they arrive! You can buy them at www.tabletopper.com.
6. Grab the check ahead of time
It’s always the worst when you are ready to go, when your baby is absolutely ready to go, but you have to sit around and wait to pay for the meal. You may even feel tempted to skip out on the bill altogether. DON’T DO THAT, CRAZY! Instead, when you receive your meal, just ask the server for your check ahead of time. Now, you don’t have to wait around with a screaming, totally-losing-it baby.
I hope you enjoyed reading my list of tips for dining out with baby. Do you enjoy taking your baby out to restaurants? What is your favorite restaurant to take your baby? Let me know in the comment section below!
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