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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How I Do It : Eating Out with Baby

Carys and I go out to eat quite a bit - more often than we should, probably, but I get bored at home, I don't like to cook, and it's fun to do so.

She's my child for sure - sushi is her FAVE.

Some people are literally gasping at the fact that I just said eating out with my toddler is fun.  It might even be considered total sacrilege by the majority of the population. I know people who have not gone out to eat with their child ever, and their child is in pre-school.

A LOT of it - a LOT LOT LOT of it - is dependent on your kid's personality. I am incredibly lucky, and I have a very easy kid who loves being out in public and strangers and new places and new foods (KNOCK ON WOOD).  If yours does not, no amount of preparation is going to make your child suddenly love it, but these tips will at least help make it as painless as possible. If you are lucky like I am, these tips will make you want to go out to eat every single day, but since your wallet will not like that, please try to refrain. If your wallet isn't a concern, please send me money, and then go ahead and go out to eat.

I take these items - an Eating Out Kit, if you will - with me every time we go out to eat. It sounds like a lot of things and a lot of work and a lot of space, but it's not - and I've never regretted it! These things are designed to make the process of going out to eat a piece of cake not just for you, but for your waiter as well.  I have gotten countless compliments on how pain-free the meal was by the server and had countless people ask about my "supplies" and comment on what a good idea they are. I can't take credit, as I got the ideas from other moms, but it's definitely been a huge help for us.

My two goals for dining out are A) easy clean-up and B) a happy child. To achieve these, I take the following:

A bib
A placemat
A sippy

I usually also bring a tiny wetbag to put the dirty bib and placemat in when we're done eating (if I use the reusable placemat), but I've also forgotten that plenty of times and just thrown the rolled-up items in my bag and had no problems.

Ok, so now the details.

1. A BIB 

My FAVORITE bibs are these:
These bibs, by iPlay/Green Sprout Baby, totally cover your child's clothes in a situation where you can't easily strip them down to eat or change their clothes afterward. And not visible in the picture is a flip-over pocket that ACTUALLY CATCHES THINGS. Other sleeved bibs have pockets (like the Bummis ones), but the pockets don't gape open and therefore are pretty worthless. These pockets sit open and actually WORK. They're fantastic.  We have two of them and need to get the next size up (bonus - they make great art/craft smocks!).  For travel, they scrunch up really small and dry fairly quickly.  When we're done eating, I'll usually dump the contents of the pocket onto the plate and wipe it down, then roll it up and stick it back in my bag or put it in the wetbag.

If a sleeved bib is overkill for your kid, I still recommend a bib with a good pocket - the goal is to keep food off both the baby but also OFF THE FLOOR so your waiter doesn't hate you completely. The Tommee Tippee soft silicone ones are really great and fold up easily and are also available at Target or Babies R Us. I also like the Baby Bjorn ones, but they're more rigid and I don't think quite as comfortable for kids, nor are they as easy to store.


Pictured above are the two travel placemats we use. The blue one to the left is a reusable one by Kiddopotamus, and the ones to the right are disposable ones by Neat Solutions (but are made by a variety of different companies).  Both are also available in stores like Babies R Us and Target.  The disposables ones come in a ton of themes, from Sesame Street as pictured above to Disney Princess to Cars and more.  If I'm being totally honest, I prefer the disposable ones. There goes my hippie cred, UGH. They're just easier. They're smaller and you toss them right there at the restaurant and don't require any extra work, whereas the reusable one has to be wiped off and dumped out and takes up more room (though it rolls up pretty compactly). You can choose which works best for you based on your own level of comfort with destroying the environment.  Either way, though, they make clean-up a breeze.


Some restaurants have plastic cups with lids and straws for kids, which are great....if they have them. MANY DO NOT. So when in doubt, bring your own. It makes it worlds easier to give your child their own drink than having them clamor to drink from yours.  When I need a spill-proof cup, we prefer the Sassy Grow-Up Cups (as she's at the age where I'm trying to get her off of spouted sippy cups totally) but whatever sippy you normally use is obviously just fine.

I've yet to see a restaurant offer child-size silverware, so if I know it's not going to be food that is easy for her to eat with her hands, I'll throw a fork in my bag as well. At almost two, she's now able to use a full-size fork, so this is only if I remember it now, but when she was younger and first using forks and spoons, it was invaluable to have ones she could easily manipulate. I much prefer the metal ones (like these Gerber Graduates) but whatever you use at home would be fine.


This is going to vary from kid to kid. Our go-to entertainment are the above play packs. They contain a coloring book, crayons, and stickers and are $1 in the Target Dollar aisle (and they go on sale regularly, when I stock up and grab ten or so to keep us stocked until the next sale). I found them here at the Dollar Store online too, but it's a variety pack that might not work unless you have boys and girls. They keep her thoroughly entertained and she LOVES opening new things, so they are perfect. Again, I hate the waste, but the trade-off is worth it. Obviously, you could get a similar effect minus the "new" by just bringing a coloring book, crayons, and stickers! We've also had great luck with reusable sticker books - like this one from Melissa and Doug - or other activity books, like this build-a-face book, also from Melissa and Doug (note: they are laaaaaarge, so not the most portable, but highly entertaining for the kids). I don't bring these entertainment items out until she starts getting fidgety or whiny - I let her explore her new environment, look around, and see what's going on first. Sometimes I never have to get them out (and sometimes restaurants have colors for the kids and you can use them and save yours for next time!).

That said, you know what will work for your kid. A movie on an iPad? Small price to pay for peace. A book? A magna-doodle? A couple toy cars? Whatever small, portable toy that will keep your child occupied is key. And of everything, probably the most important.


More hints that don't involve bringing anything are:

- Ask for a seat with a view of the front door (constant people coming in) or the window (people walking by/cars/planes/etc). Both of those can serve as distractions for kids. 

- Ask for a plate of fruit/veggies/crackers immediately. Some places will give it to you free (seriously brilliant) and some will charge, but little snacks act as another distraction. Also, Carys gets that eating out means, duh, FOOD, but doesn't understand the wait for said food. So as soon as we're in a restaurant, she's ready to eat. This tides her over until the real food arrives.

- I rarely order her a kid's meal. First, because they're usually insanely unhealthy, but second, because it's usually a waste of money. If it's a buffet (or like Ruby Tuesday with a salad buffet) I'll ask the server if it's okay to just give her a plate from there, and she's still young enough that the answer has always been yes. I'll usually pair that with a side or two, and it's much cheaper than getting a full meal just for her that is both unhealthy and will mostly go to waste.

Anything else I should add? What are your go-to eating out tips?

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