Make baby-led weaning at restaurants more pleasant for you—and for the wait staff—in spite of the mess!
Taking your baby out to eat at a restaurant is pretty doable—at first. Lots of newborns will snooze in a stroller and the only “food” they need is milk, so you still stand a chance of enjoying a great meal and actual adult conversation. But fast forward a few months and things have a tendency to, um, change—especially once a baby has started on solids. And especially, especially if said little one is doing baby-led weaning. All of a sudden, you may find yourself asking, “You mean I have to make sure he eats, too? In public?!”
Don't sweat it, mama: Dining at a restaurant with a tiny self-feeder is less scary than it seems. While chilling yourself out with a cocktail and tipping your server handsomely will definitely help you survive the experience, getting the right gear and implementing a few simple strategies can make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved. Here are tips to keep you sane—and the wait staff on your side—while offering your baby solid foods outside of the house.
Get the right gear
Stocking up with a few smart tools will help make feeding your baby a breeze. Here's what should be in your arsenal for your forays out to eat.
A portable booster seat Not all restaurants provide high chairs. Investing in a portable booster seat will allow your baby to have a safe, separate place to sit while exploring her food. When choosing a booster, pay close attention to ease of use, safety, portability, and ease of cleaning (because you know it's going to get messy).
Bib(s) Since you will want to mitigate the mess as much as possible when out in the “real” world (and draping your child in a plastic lawn bag will cause others to question your parenting fitness), opt for a bib that covers as much of your baby as possible. Go for one that is full-sleeved to protect clothing. To leave less of a mess in the restaurant itself, try a bib that has a little catcher pocket to intercept crumbs and spills. Wipe clean or washable bibs are a must. And bring a backup. Or two.
Food scissors According to Amy Marlow, RD, a New York-based registered dietitian and nutritionist, it is easiest for babies to pick up French-fry shaped foods when starting baby-led weaning. “You can begin with steamed vegetables, soft fruits, or strips of cheese or ground meat patties," she says. "Later, as your baby masters the pincer grasp, he’ll be able to pick up smaller, pea-sized, pieces of food.” On the go, a pair of portable food scissors can make it quick and easy to cut food into just the right shapes and sizes for your little eater.
Bowl Sure, restaurants have dishes galore, but a small, shatterproof bowl with a lid (and, ideally, one that has a non-slip or suction grip) is indispensable when it comes to eating out with a baby. You can use it as a holding tank for still-too-hot pieces of food, as a way to bring home leftovers and, of course, as a way to serve food to your little one. A lidded bowl filled with a healthy home-prepped snack (read: plan B) is also the answer to a multitude of potential pitfalls from lengthy wait times to rejected pancakes.
Travel cup For times when you are away from home, it is handy to have a cup with a lid. A leak-proof cup with a straw is easy for many babies to use and minimizes spills while en route.
A towel A plain old bath towel can be used in a variety of ways to help keep some of the mess under control and save a bit of time (and face) after the meal is over. You can lay the towel under your baby’s chair like a splash mat to catch spills and crumbs or you can drape it over your baby’s lap, then tuck it over the front and sides of his booster to catch falling food. When the meal is over, just gather the edges of the towel together, wipe baby’s hands, face and the table with the still-clean underside, shake it out over a garbage can and throw it into the washing machine when you get home.
Wipes, wipes and more wipes For cleaning your little one’s face and hands and for wiping down the table and chair (and all the other unexpected places you might find the remains of your meal) you’re going to want a full-bodied stash of disposable wipes. Washcloths and reusable wipes are fantastic for cleanup at home, but they’re not as practical when you’re on the go. After a preliminary cleanup at the table, you might consider taking your baby to the restaurant bathroom for a more thorough hose-down.
Lunch bag Staying organized goes a long way towards staying sane in the midst of a potentially chaotic restaurant visit. An insulated cloth lunch bag or tote is ideal for keeping you little eater’s gear all in one place. Just throw bibs, food scissors, bowl, wipes, and travel cup into a cloth lunch bag and you are ready to rock!
Get the right mindset
Don’t stress out about giving your baby a well-rounded meal It’s better to think about eating out with a very young child as more of a practice run than anything else. At this age, you’re really just beginning to teach your little one about being in a restaurant, more than teaching her how to eat. “If you’re out and can’t find whole grains or green veggies or the perfect side dish, don’t sweat it," says Marlow. “One meal that’s less than perfect isn’t the end of the world. If you ask, most restaurants will prepare vegetables or grains without salt, but you don’t have to overthink it.”
Be prepared for mess If your baby makes a mess at home, she’s going to make a mess at a restaurant. If you’re geared up with some of the essentials listed above, you’re already ahead of the game. After that, all you can do is go with it and try not to let the possibility of extreme disaster and public ridicule ruin your meal. Remember, you’re not the first person to bring a baby to the restaurant and chances are plenty of other people in the place have been in your applesauce-splattered shoes at one time or another.
But if all else fails...
Go home If your little one starts to lose his mind and you know deep down that the only answer is to bail—do it. Just ask for the check, take all the food to go, and call it a day. No harm, no foul. You’ll try again another time. We promise: It gets easier!