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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Great tips! #2 is genius! I am going to try that next time we go out! I have been wanting a bib catcher, they look awesome and so helpful! The mess is real!
Thank you! Hopefully the bib catcher helps if you try it out. It’s the best invention!
I want to eat with the joker!! (Kidding). W is great in restaurants and your tips really do work. One other thing that we always remembered was to tip well because no matter how careful you are, babies make a bigger mess than (most) adults.
I’m sure you’ll get a chance to eat with the joker sooner or later! You are so right about making sure to tip well. I should have added that to the list!
We love taking Jane out to eat! Your tips are excellent, we try to follow all of them, though Jane is a pretty dainty eater so her messes are typically controllable. I think if you are a couple/family who likes to eat out, them don’t be afraid to take your baby out to eat early. We took Jane out for the first time when she was just a few weeks old. This way the baby learns what proper behavior is as she grows. I can’t imagine what a nightmare it would be trying to take her out for the first time now… Yikes! Great post!
Thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m a bit jealous of Jane’s lady-like eating habits. I totally agree with you on taking the babies out early. In fact, I wish I would have taken W out a lot more when he was just a newborn- they just sleep through the whole meal!
Even though our son is almost 3 we still take him to lots of restaurants and we have been taking him out since he was a newborn. The more children are exposed to that environment the better they do. As they get older, phones and iPads are lifesavers! The best part is when you go out early you can always snag a table!!
That’s true. We never have problems getting a table when we go early. It’s nice to know your son is still doing well going out to eat at 3!
I don’t have a baby anymore but I do love seeing other people’s cuties at a restaurant when we eat out.
Can I add that I was surprised you didn’t mention taking tech devices with you? I’m not a fan of Baby + iPad, but was wondering what you thought?
Well, I am not into screen time before 2, so before then we’ll try not to use any iPads or anything like that. Though, I totally get how tempting it must be to use that stuff if your baby/toddler is ready to lose it. I guess we’ll have to see how it goes!
Smart idea to bring toys and snacks – those would be my advice too!
Thanks for the comment!
Brilliant ideas! Thanks so much for sharing. Buddy is the same age and dining out can be an experience to say the least!!
Thank you! Buddy is so cute!
Great tips! I was lucky when my son was little because there was a regular restaurant where we used to go that was super child friendly, just next door to our apartment. But it can be difficult, especially in a new place.
That’s so nice, Joanna! It’s great to have a place you know you can always go.
great tips, wish i knew of them when my baby was a baby…
Thanks, Terri! Glad you like them.
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