Baby as a dinner date? With this advice, yes!
By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns
Yes, you can go out to dinner and bring your baby along. Of course, the first time eating out with baby may be a tense experience—and you may need to redefine your idea of a “normal” night out, just as with any component of your life before baby. With a little planning, practice, and perspective, you’ll find that your baby can be an enjoyable dining partner.
Choosing the restaurant
The right choice of restaurant can mean the difference between an enjoyable event and an unpleasant one. Choose an establishment that:
- Is prepared to accommodate children. Call ahead and ask if they have a children’s menu and high chairs. If the answer is “yes,” then it is probably a good choice.
- Is family-friendly. A noisy environment with other children around will allow you to relax about your baby’s coos, squeals, and cries. A hushed restaurant will amplify every one of your baby’s noises, and you’ll be a nervous wreck.
- Isn’t too crowded. If you have to wait forever for your food to be served, you’ll be dealing with fussiness before you’re done. If you choose a popular restaurant, go before the rush hour.
- Offers a few typical kid-food menu choices. If you are planning to feed your older baby there, look for a restaurant that serves some of his or her familiar choices.
Preparation is key when eating out with baby
Unless your baby can fall asleep anywhere, plan a restaurant excursion for right after your baby’s nap. If you have a newborn who can still sleep anywhere, it won’t matter what time you go; just bring in your car seat, stroller, or portable baby seat for him or her to sleep in, unless you’re comfortable and practiced at having a meal with baby in your arms.
Food for baby
You have a number of options for your baby’s meal. For example, you can ask for an extra plate and give him or her pieces from your own meal (obviously, this works if you order something that baby likes as well). If you have more than one child along, you can order a meal for them to share. Another option that many parents don’t think of is to create your own entrees. You can determine what ingredients the kitchen has in stock by looking over the menu. Then simply ask for a few things in a polite way; most servers are happy to work with you. “Do you think I could get a slice of tomato, a piece of avocado and a banana for my baby?” If you’ve planned ahead and brought an empty sippy cup, you can ask your server to fill it with milk or juice.
Don’t be too worried about what your baby actually eats. As long as your little one’s happy, just enjoy your own meal. I’ve watched many parents ruin their own meal time by nagging their children to eat the entire time they are at a restaurant. Don’t fret!
Bringing what you need
Bring along a few items to enhance your restaurant experience and make dining out with baby a breeze.
- A bib. A large one with a catchall pocket at the bottom works well.
- Your baby’s sippy cup, spoon, and bowl.
- A washcloth or wet wipes in a baggie for after-meal clean up.
- A change of clothes for your baby in case of spills.
Keeping your baby happy
What seems like a short time to you can be an eternity to your baby. While you may be interested in the food, your baby won’t be. If he or she is at the stage of crawling, cruising, or walking, then sitting quietly in one seat for an hour or more can be torture. The following ideas can help you keep your baby happy for an extended period:
- Bring along an assortment of quiet toys for your baby to play with.
- Ask for crackers or bread to be served as soon as you are seated so that your baby has something to eat (and, yes, to play with!) while you are waiting for your meals to be served.
- Relax! It’s perfectly fine for your baby to play with crackers instead of eating them, or stack up the little jelly packets, or fill a plate with sprinkles of salt and pepper. If these activities keep baby happy and quiet, then let your little one play.
- After you’ve ordered your food, you might want or need to take your baby for a walk around the restaurant. Keep other people’s desires for a quiet meal in mind, but go ahead and take a stroll inside or just outside the restaurant.
- A coffee cup filled with ice, along with a spoon for stirring, makes a great toy. Just make sure that the ice pieces aren’t the size of a choking hazard, since a few will likely make it into your baby’s mouth.
- Don’t stay too much longer after you’ve eaten, unless your baby seems content. Long post-meal conversations tend to invite fussy, disruptive behavior from babies.
- If your baby has made a mess at the table (or beneath it), remember to leave a bigger tip for the server who has to clean it all up!
Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series, which helps Moms and Dads through all key stages of parenting. Visit her at nocrysolution.com