7 Tips to Improve Meals Out with Your Baby
FYI- These are tips for actually enjoying eating out with your baby at an adult restaurant in an adult sort of way- without having to skip the conversation to stroll around the restaurant for half the meal, or eat at the “early bird special” hour, or get a to-go box and pay as soon as the meal arrives so you can dash as soon as you shovel your food in.
This morning, my husband, Birdie, and I went out to breakfast at our favorite local spot. This is the first time we have done this since our little lady has started eating solid foods and crawling. Honestly, I’ve sort of been avoiding going out to eat with her because I figured it would be a lot more difficult now that she wants to get into everything and move around. It was a beautiful morning and we got a table after only about five minutes of waiting! We sat down, quickly ordered our coffee and suddenly I had a small twinge of anxiety. I did not bring any food for my baby! Actually, I didn’t bring anything for my baby. Well, I did have my breasts with me thankfully so she could always have some milk if she needed. No matter how tired and stressed out I get- I never forget my boobs! However, I was not sure how we would entertain her for the next 20 minutes while we waited for the food to arrive, and then for the second 20 minutes while we ate our meal and paid. What if Birdie makes a scene? What if she starts crying and we have to leave? What if she starts banging or throwing the silverware?? Other diners might think that our daughter was destined to be a prison inmate (banging an old tin cup along the cell bars. ) I want people to see my daughter and assume she is destined for greatness: Harvard, Nobel prizes, amazing discoveries. Not jail. She already has crazy, patchy hair that makes her look capable of wild outbursts. Spoon-throwing would not help. BUT! None of this happened. We had a really lovely, really fun breakfast out with Birdie acting totally reasonable the whole time! My husband and I got to enjoy ourselves and our meal- no rushing and cramming. No apologizing and slinking out to the car. Overall, it was a really awesome morning and I look forward to eating out with her again in the near future. I think that there were, in fact, a few things that I did have with me or that I did during the meal that made this outing go smoothly, so I decided to share. Also, a few things occurred to me while I was eating that probably would really help for next time.
Here are my tips for eating out with your baby (6-12 month old.) Some of this may seem obvious to you impressive parents out there. But, some of us are a little slower on the draw. For us newbies, and for those who agree that brain power is hard to come by first thing in the morning before we’ve had our coffees- here are my insights. Will these work for every person, every time. Nope. If your baby has an ear infection or is crazy tired, or just having a super fussy day, maybe just skip the meal out today. But these tips are a pretty sure bet in most circumstances with a healthy baby
1. Use table and purse items as “toys”. If you’ve got nothing- you were blurry eyed and didn’t think to grab any toys for your baby- maybe you’re lucky you remembered to put pants on before you walked out the door- scour the table or your purse for “toys”. I use the term “toy” in the most liberal sense here- spoon, creamers, sugar packet container or ask for an extra plastic cup or to-go box to open/close/shake/fill/etc. Stick with things that wont break if dropped and even better of they wont make a loud clanging noise if (really, when) thrown. The little plastic creamers and a to-go box are probably your best options- better than a spoon or a plastic cup. In your purse- keys, wallet, tic tac box, glasses case, make up bag w make up removed. Stick with things that can be mouthed, shaken, opened/closed; not things that can be ingested, broken, destroyed, or completely made a mess of.
2. Try a “busy wallet”. If you can be the teensiest tiniest bit prepared I recommend this idea for a “busy wallet” from The Acts of Grace blog, which is easy to have on hand at all times so you don’t have to think about it when you’re heading out the door. I saw this wallet idea on pinterest a while back and thought it was genius. One of Birdie’s favorite things is my wallet. I don’t mind her playing with it because it keeps her interested (opens/closes/has different textures to mouth) but it’s probably a bit dirty for a traditional “toy” and I do dislike opening it up several hours later to find vomit where I traditionally keep my credit card. Also, I worry that I will lose important things from my wallet: drivers license, money. So I am excited to try this faux wallet toy for the next time we go out. It’s small enough that I can keep it in my purse at all times so I won’t have to worry about packing a toy for Birdie when I go out.
3. Wear a teething necklace. A necklace also serves as an easy toy in a pinch and this one in particular, I love:
I found it on Etsy a while back when I was searching for a rattle. I though these necklaces were both pretty and nicely functional- non-toxic dyes, non-treated wooden beads that are made to be mouthed- but I hesitated to purchase until I saw one on a friend of mine recently. It looked so good on her and she said her son loved it so I went for it. So glad I did. Lucy loves it. She loves to mouth it, to hold it, to pull on it, to wear it to put it on and take it off. It keeps her attention and it and works as an accessory- two birds with one stone! This necklace did the job today when I realized I did not bring a toy and I wasn’t in the mood to let Birdie launch a spoon across the restaurant.
4. Bring a small snack and a lidded cup. If you’re really the impressive, boy-scout-type, bring some small snacks, which also would totally entertain while waiting to order and waiting for your food to arrive. Even better- bring a cup (zippy, straw, etc.) to let your baby play and also drink so you don’t have to pay for a child’s drink that they take 2 sips of and leave. While I love this plan, I am pretty much almost never that thoughtful to bring anything useful with me ahead of time. I have repeatedly forgotten to bring an extra diaper and wipes with me, which is probably the most basic baby item I’m supposed to bring on outings.
5. Don’t be afraid to nurse! No matter what you bring or don’t bring, I highly suggest nursing in public to pass the time, soothe a fussy or hungry baby, and generally make going out with your baby easier. I have a few friends who don’t feel comfortable doing this (with or without a nursing cover) and I can say it’s very limiting for them. You have to be one of those “prepared” mamas who feeds their baby at home before you leave, packs a bottle just in case, and has milk or formula on hand. That is 100% not me. Also, even in the best of circumstances, Birdie sometimes really wants to nurse right in the middle of an outing. It can be a little intimidating at first, but with some practice, it’s so liberating, so easy, and so helpful. I find that the more confident I am about it, the less anyone else seems to care or even notice. 2 things that helped me build confidence with this: using a nursing cover initially (or possibly always, if you have a baby that is so distracted by everything around them that they can’t focus to nurse in public, a “hooter hider” can really help block out distractions) and nursing with other mamas in public. When you nurse in a group it takes away the feeling that everyone is looking just at you and this helps you get past that initial fear, which is good because the more you practice, the easier it gets. Now I find that nursing in public- especially at a restaurant to help pass the time- is the lazy mother’s best tool. 6. Order something that your baby can self-feed. This is probably the most important tip. I can’t stress this one enough. This frees you up in a few ways- allows you to not have to pack and bring extra food for your baby, engages your baby and keeps them distracted and quiet at the table, helps them to stay seated in their highchair while the food is being served, and allows you and your partner to enjoy your own meal without having to directly feed your child. So, instead of bringing separate food for your child or ordering them a separate meal, just share. Pretty much every child is more motivated to eat what you are eating and will want what you have anyways. Just about every restaurant has something on the menu that you and your baby will both enjoy, just keep your child’s skills and interests in mind as you order. This can be purees if you’re giving purees (you just have to be ok with giving up the spoon to let your child “feed” herself) but I think works even better with table foods, which can safely be done as early as 6 months old. For example, my husband and I both ordered our favorite meals (his: eggs benedict with roasted potatoes and mine: french toast with citrus banana caramel topping- yum!!) Lucy is 7 months old and she has no teeth. She’s just learning how to chew and mostly she mouths things and sucks on them. I gave her strips of my french toast, cut up bits of banana, and large pieces of roasted potato. She LOVED the strips of french toast I gave her and spent at least 10 minutes picking them up, sucking them, mashing them, and exploring them. If I was concerned she couldn’t handle the texture, or large chunks, I could have given mashed up bananas but this approach works best when she can pick up an item herself and attempt to self-feed. We also gave her a few of the larger pieces of roasted potatoes, which she could grab and hold to suck and munch on. Again, this is key. Pieces that she can hold and munch or suck on kept her busy for the entire duration of the meal, which allowed us to chat, eat, and generally enjoy ourselves without having to have one parent feed while the other scarfs, then switch off and have one parent hold/walk/distract while the other scarfs. It was awesome to have all three of us enjoying our meal at the same time. By the time my husband and I were done with our meals, Lucy was just starting to get tired of going after pieces of food so we all wrapped up around the same time.
7. Leave a generous tip. Don't worry about the mess- just tip well and hold your head high as you walk out the door. This is a suggestion that a few mom friends have shared with me and as a former server, it resonates well with me. I certainly felt a bit sheepish about the state of the floor beneath my daughter's highchair, but with a slightly larger tip, I was able to smile and say goodbye to the server, rather than running out the door feeling like he was cursing us as we left.
I hope these help you get out there and enjoy social time with your family! I know that having a baby can feel really isolating when you don't leave the house. Let me konw what you thinnk and if these suggestions help. If you have any other go-to's, I'd love to hear them!