since Luca is almost a toddler (just two more months to go!), and I get a lot of questions on how we eat out at restaurants with an infant and actually enjoy ourselves, I figured it was time to write the post.
plus, everyone loves my #restaurantluca hashtag on the weekends when we’re out and about with him! we take him out for about 3 meals a weekend.
to preface this, we are choosing to introduce food to Luca with baby led weaning (BLW). you can read all about our decisions in this post. with this, there are a couple key points to keep in mind when I’m sharing my tips:
- the main idea behind BLW is that it starts table manners early – babies starting at 6 months sit at a table with their family and have a dinner, eating the same thing the parents are eating. thus, we don’t order for Luca first and let him eat first or any of that – he only eats when we eat, at the same time, and for the most part, the same thing.
- the babies are feeding themselves, so there is no spoon feeding AT ALL, ever. thus, already, we have a leg up when dining out, because Luca sits in his high chair and eats alongside us. we don’t have to feed him and feed ourselves at the same time. Luca works on his meal, while we do ours.
tips for eating at restaurants with an infant
first accept this: you’re not just going to have a typical meal like you did pre-baby
I know this sounds counterproductive to the whole point of this blog post, but hear me out. you’re not going to be able to sit at a table, enjoy some cocktails and long conversation before the meal. the baby wants to touch everything and once the baby is more mobile, baby is going to want to move around. their attention span is small and everything is shiny and new.
SO, while the actual time you spend eating can be 100% enjoyable, the time before and after gets a little hairy.
(that’s my Dad, with Luca, as we’re having some drinks, waiting for our food to arrive! the more hands, the better when dining out with an infant!)
set everything up when you first sit down at the table
when Lu and I first arrive at the dinner table, we:
- clear everything off the table that’s within baby’s reach that’s dangerous (forks, knives, votive candles, glassware, bread plates, etc.)
- setup his high chair. we love this high chair, because Luca can be at the table with us, instead of in a high chair looking up at us. he feels more part of the mealtime.
- wipe down the parts of the table and menus that he will be touching/potentially his food will be touching. I do this 50% of the time, kind of just depends on the establishment. a five star restaurant, no. a sports bar, yes.
- figure out what we want to order.
don’t put the baby in the high chair until baby is ready to eat – hold the baby
this is very important! you want the meal time to always be enjoyable, so if the baby starts associating the high chair with being locked into place, baby may start to resent the chair. so, we hold Luca before any food comes. we usually switch off between who is holding the baby.
tell the waiter you are in a time crunch because of the baby
this is KEY. like I said, babies have small attention spans and you want to spend as much of your time eating as you can — too much in between time can get stressful. SO, tell your server something like, “We can’t stay here very long because of the baby, so it would be great if we could put in our orders right away.” this lets the server know that things need to happen quickly.
also, even though it may seem that you’re rushing a lot of the process, you end up having a better time, because although things happen quickly, you aren’t spending half of your time stressing about the time! it’s much more peaceful.
if you’re ordering appetizers, make sure the baby can eat them or you brought something they can eat with you – and tell the waiter to fire the entrees
SO, if you want to get appetizers, totally cool – Lu and I get apps 9/10 when we’re out with Luca. this is what we do: when we order everything, we say, “Can you please let the kitchen know to fire the entrees once we start on our appetizers?” this means that once you get the apps, the kitchen will start cooking the entrees right away, so there’s little lag time between eating the appetizers and dinner. this is especially important because, the baby takes longer to eat than you do, so you’ll get some one-on-one time after you finish the appetizer. this is why we almost always order apps!
BUT, if there’s nothing for the baby on the appetizer menu, you may want to order something off the sides menu, like roasted potatoes or something so the baby can have something while you eat also. at the very least, you could ask for bread to be brought to the table, but that’s not very nutritious for baby.
OR, I always bring food with me just in case. I bring easy things like healthy O’s cereal (this is great as an appetizer for the baby because it takes very long to eat), fruit, peanut butter packets and healthy sliced bread, LARABAR, or leftovers from the week (like roasted veggies, my veggie tots from the new cookbook, etc.)
keep the baby happy and entertained, but enjoy yourself too
you can pack a toy (I prefer books, because it keeps his attention span longer), but he probably won’t want it for very long if at all. he’s at a restaurant and it’s sensory overload. I usually let Luca hold the menu – this keeps him entertained for a good 5-10 minutes which is enough time for us to order food and maybe start sipping some wine.
if he gets really anxious, you may have to get up and walk him around the restaurant. I’ve found that this isn’t very bothersome – it’s actually enjoyable. you get to walk the baby around, show baby things at the restaurant – point and talk to him. it’s a nice mommy and me time, for me. sometimes, we both (Lu and I) walk around – we’ll maybe take him to the bar so we can enjoy a drink, or if it’s an outdoor restaurant, just take a stroll down the block with him. we’ll take our wines with us! the best is when we’re somewhere that has an entryway with couches and chairs (kind of like a lounge) – we’ll sit with our drinks and let Luca climb on the couches and ottomans while we enjoy ourselves.
when the food comes, prepare your baby’s plate before putting him in the high chair
say you’ve ordered the roast chicken with veggies for you to share with the baby (or, you’ve ordered it just for him.) make sure you cut the veggies and chicken up appropriately, place them on his plate, etc. then, place him in his high chair, put on his bib, and give him his plate. then you start to eat and the magic happens!
when the food comes, order any additional drinks/items you want and ask for the check!
we like to do this so we can leave when we’re ready and we don’t have to wait for the check. it makes the end of the meal much less stressful.
make sure to include the baby in conversation at the table
Luca doesn’t talk, BUT I still like to foster good table manners and make him feel included at the table, so I make sure to check in with him, “How do you like that?” or “Would you like more?” or “Would you like some water?” Often times, I’ll say, “Wow, you’re such a great eater!” Just a little something to include him. A simple “What do you think?” goes a long way, BUT he shouldn’t be the center of your meal. The baby should learn that he’s part of it, but Mommy and Daddy also get to enjoy themselves. It’s also good for them to see a loving relationship!
once the baby is done, one is on clean up and one is on baby duty
once Luca’s done eating, Lu will usually clean up his high chair area, break it down, put it away, and pack up the stroller (if we have the stroller with us.) I clean the baby and take him – I’ll play with him at the table or again, I’ll walk around the restaurant with him or whatever. it just depends on his mood! sometimes, he’s totally content just sitting there! once we’re ready to go, have our last sip of wine, we’ll leave – because the check is paid (since we asked for it earlier, remember?)
and that’s it! those are my tips. I hope you found this helpful! we take Luca out all the time and really enjoy our experiences – we’ve got it down to a science now, but we’re always realistic: we’re not going to have a long drawn out dinner, it’s going to be short and sweet, but enjoyable (for all 3 of us!)