Top Five Tuesday: Tips for Eating Out with a Baby

First of all, I totally don’t want to jinx Natalie’s relatively good eating-out behavior by writing this post, and, secondly, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that we have restaurant dining with her down to a science. No way, not even close. We’ve dealt with crying and squirming and refusing to sit in a high chair and near-choking and throwing food on the ground and, most recently, a trip-and-fall while Natalie was walking with me that resulted in a head bonk loud enough to make the ENTIRE patronage of our lunch destination turn and stare while I scooped up my screaming child and bolted outside.

Despite all that, though, we love going out to eat and try to do it whenever we have the extra cash to make it happen. And even when we don’t.

Along the way we’ve learned what works the best for us when toting a baby along to dine out, and I thought I’d share our tips in this week’s Top 5 Tuesday. Here goes!

1. Prepare for breastfeeding in public. When I was breastfeeding I always dreaded doing it in public, which is a hang-up that I only kind of got over. I admire women who are able to do it so easily, without worrying about people staring and without a baby who would rather look around and leave you exposed to the world than latch on. In any case, if you ARE going to be out at your baby’s usual feeding time, make sure you have what you need all packed up in advance. For me, that meant bringing a nipple shield and a cover-up, and then scoping out a quiet area I could retreat to when Natalie would inevitably be so distracted by the lights and sounds of the restaurant that she wouldn’t eat. For you, that might mean making sure you have a comfortable seat and enough room at the table to hold the baby, or maybe bringing a Boppy or other pillow to help keep your hands free for eating.

2. When you are seated, immediately do a baby-proofing set-up of the table. Move all the breakables (glasses, salt & pepper shakers) and sharps (knives) and anything else you don’t want your child pulling down and onto themselves. Get a highchair and make sure the belt actually fastens properly–if it doesn’t, don’t use it. Our next step is always to get out some wet wipes and clean up the area of the table where Natalie will be sitting (as well as her hands) so she can immediately get to work snacking on some finger foods that we put out on the table. This combined with people watching usually keeps her entertained long enough for us to get settled into our seats, look at the menu, and hopefully place our order.

3. Be friendly with the waitstaff about what you might need for your child. That might mean explaining that you have brought in food from home for a child who cannot yet eat off an adult menu (most restaurants aren’t super happy about seeing outside food & drink on their tables), or asking for extra napkins to put out on the floor to catch food that your kid might toss while eating.

4. Bring what you think you will need to feed and entertain your child, and then bring more. You know best what foods your kid is least likely to balk at, and what toys keep him/her happy. BRING THEM. We try to avoid really loud toys for the sake of our fellow diners, but sometimes a blinking-low-music toy is what will keep her from screeching, and we figure people would rather hear Twinkle, Twinkle than a wailing baby. We have found that books are always a hit with Natalie, so we are sure to have plenty in our diaper bag. For food, finger foods have been the Best Milestone Ever in terms of eating out. She can happily feed herself while we have our meals, which is so much better than struggling with spoon-feeding her while also trying to shovel food into our own mouths. I recommend bringing food that is a little special or a hands-down favorite, just to ensure that it actually gets eaten.

5. When the meal is over and it’s clear that your kid has had enough of being strapped in a public high chair, get out. Well, more accurately, clean up your table, tip well, and then get the heck out. I feel very strongly that dining out with a kid means cleaning up after that kid, which may be due to the fact that Mikey and I both worked as waiters and know what a groan it is to have to clean up after someone else’s messy toddler. We have gotten pretty good at cleaning up after Natalie in public–usually we put some napkins down under her high chair to catch the food she inevitably drops so we can just fold them up at the end of a meal, and then it’s just a matter of wet-wiping the surface she ate on to catch any mushed up food and crumbs.

Those are my tips–what are yours? Anyone have a great bit of advice for parents at restaurants with their kids? Any horror stories? Share, please!
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2 thoughts on “Top Five Tuesday: Tips for Eating Out with a Baby

  1. I couldn't agree with my lovely wife more on this post, but I wanted to add a personal note on this subject.Before I had a daughter, I used to go to restaurants and see people with screaming, wild, annoying children and think, "Jesus, if I ever have kids, I'll never be able to go out again." As a waiter, cleaning up after screaming, wild, annoying children, I would think, "Jesus, I'm never having kids, period."I now realize it's not nearly as simple as that, but parenting has a lot to do with it. You just have to be much more flexible (and eat quickly) when you have kids at a restaurant. If you want to go out, try not to pick the fancy bistro at 8 p.m. on a Friday. If you take your child out and he/she goes nuts, you'll have to leave or take turns. The simple reality is this: If your child can't handle going out to eat, you shouldn't take your child out to eat. It's rude and unfair. But if you test it out and it works well, follow Hilary's tips and you'll no longer have to consider Domino's delivery "going out".

  2. Awesome, awesome tips! Thanks so much for sharing!Back when my babe was, well, a babe, we ate out more frequently, and it was all so easy. The babe would fall asleep in the car on the way over, would sleep through most of the meal, and would wake up right as we were paying our bill. It was a beautiful thing. Now that the babe's bigger and more in tune with the world (and now that car rides no longer mean instant nap), we haven't been out to eat too often. You give me hope that it IS possible to do the eating out thing with the babe!

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