Eating Out With Your Baby
As parents, we generally accept that we are going to have to make changes to the way we live to accommodate the arrival of our children. We're probably not going to get lazy Sunday morning lie-ins with coffee, croissants and the papers. Gone too, at least in the short term, are late nights out with friends, restful beach holidays and romantic weekends away. But, while the arrival of your baby does necessitate a new pattern of living, not all your previous pleasures are necessarily denied. So, if eating out is something you don't want to forego, there is no reason at all why you can't continue to do so - as long as you follow a few simple rules.
Getting The Venue Right
This doesn't mean you are forever condemned to average quality 'family-friendly' chain eateries. It does mean, however, that is better to find a restaurant that can accommodate you and your little one. Here in the UK we generally don't have the same approach as our Southern European cousins, where it is simply accepted that young children may be included in any party. Better to check ahead that young diners are welcome, and that the restaurant has high chairs, space for buggies, etc. Depending on your attitude to feeding in public, you may also want to check whether they consider themselves breastfeeding-friendly.
Getting The Timing Right
You know your baby's routine best; the rhythm of their day, when they are content, and when they are fractious. Time your meal to coincide with a calm part of your child's day. For example, if your baby is having two longer naps a day, an early lunch in between them is ideal. Babies vary enormously as to their ability to cope with evenings out, as do parents attitudes and beliefs about bedtime routines. It is probably true enough to say that when very young (under three months) babies can cope with evenings out and will most likely doze in their car seat or in a sling while you eat. If they are older than that you may need to think about your child's usual evening pattern before making a booking.
What Should I Take With Me?
Even if your baby is only a few weeks old, you are probably already well used to carrying plenty of kit around with you. A meal out with your young child will require you to think in advance about what you need. All your usual Change bag essentials will be helpful, with some extras added in. First, consider carefully what your child is going to eat or drink while you do the same thing. Sticking to known favourites (if they are young enough for you to need to take their food as opposed to choosing something from the menu for them) is always a good idea. Whenever you put your child in a new situation, the 'path of least resistance' is one we would strongly advise your take! Second, it is also worth ensuring you have plenty of entertainment for them, familiar and loved toys, books and games, or maybe the thrill of something new just for the occasion will work too. And just one more word about ordering from the menu for your child; do ask the waiting staff about the salt levels in your chosen dish, to ensure they are not too high for a young child.
What To Be Prepared For
- ...being the noisiest table in the restaurant. While there is nothing wrong with feeling that you have a right to be there, like any other paying customer, there are benefits to recognising that other diners might not welcome your presence. However, if you are worried that you may attract an unwelcome amount of judgement-filled 'on-looking', it may be worth reading our article Coping With a Crying Baby in Public in advance, for some tips on dealing with tantrums, meltdowns and the negative views of others.
- ...a lot of mess, and maybe even some breakages. If your little one has reached the stage of grabbing everything within reach, make a point of removing everything breakable as soon as you sit down, or at least getting the wine glasses to the other end of the table. Help the staff by endeavouring to tidy up what you can.
- ...your child wanting to be involved. Don't expect to be able to simply lay down supplies in front of your little one, turn to your partner or friends and have delightful, lengthy grown-up conversations. Include your child in the moment, and acknowledge their needs, in particular, the length of time they can tolerate in one place. This way, you're much more likely to enjoy your meal, and give your child a valuable life experience.
- ...needing to leave. Children will not always respond to even the best laid plans. It is perhaps wise to accept, in advance of your trip to the restaurant, that your time there may get cut short. In this sense, going out to eat with your baby or child is no different than the rest of your parenting journey!