Just like traveling with babies, eating out or going to restaurants with them can be a source of stress for parents.
Many valid questions flood a concerned parent’s mind: How will my baby behave when we’re out in a restaurant? What will people say if my baby starts crying or making noise? How long will my baby be calm before they kick up a fuss? What kind of food do I order in a restaurant?
Don’t worry, these questions are very common. We’re here with a cool guide to help you step out with your baby in tow! Some practical dos and don'ts will help you mentally prepare for the “what-ifs.”
In today’s article, we focus on eating out in two ways: (1) eating out at a restaurant and (2) eating out at a friend’s or relative’s home.
What Do We Know
First, let’s get some “baby basics” out of the way:
The idea of eating out is not just for your baby to be okay but, more importantly, for you as a parent to enjoy your time outdoors. We underestimate how much mothers need a break from their routine. Their baby’s life becomes their life. It’s natural that most moms crave a change in scenery or maybe some comforting Chinese at their favorite restaurant. This can boost a mom’s mental and emotional well-being when they can dress up, step out of the house, and feel like a human being who has her own needs.
Moms, we recommend you do this from time to time. Ask loved ones for the support you need, but do it.
Dads, we encourage you to support and step up as needed, so your partner can get short breaks that refresh her.
PART 1: EATING OUT AT A RESTAURANT
Can Your Baby Eat Outside Food?
When a baby is young, parents may wonder what’s the appropriate age to allow them to eat food in restaurants or cafes.
While stepping out for a meal is meant to be an experience for you to enjoy and indulge in, your baby may also get excited and want to be part of your dining experience. But can your baby eat this food? If your baby has tried all kinds of food at home (including allergenic foods) and is able to handle them well, they are ready to eat out. However, this readiness can vary for different babies.
This is also a personal preference that you, as a parent, can decide for your baby. Go with what makes you comfortable. You should feel confident with the choice you make.
Later in his article, we discuss how to order food (in a restaurant) that’s appropriate for your baby, so stay tuned.
Tips for Eating Out With Your Baby
CREATE A SOLID PLAN
1) Pick a baby-friendly place: Whether it’s a café or restaurant, make sure you check that the place has baby-friendly chairs or high chairs. The restaurant should also maintain good hygiene and may have family seating areas.
Most family-friendly restaurants are very used to having kids of all ages, so don’t feel awkward or conscious about your baby’s antics or mess. Just be sure to leave a generous tip if you feel the serving or cleaning staff stepped up beyond their role! This will make it a positive experience to return to the restaurant with your baby.
Secret to a calmer baby at a restaurant?
- Some restaurants have play areas for kids, which help children get all their wiggles just before you sit for a meal.
- Head to a park just before the meal, so your baby can channel their energy and excitement in a kid-friendly place, so they’re calmer at the restaurant.
2) Pre-book a table if possible: In your baby-free days, you may have been spontaneous enough to drop in to a busy place on a Saturday night and get a table after waiting for 30 minutes. With a baby, you certainly cannot do that. Take reservations as needed, so your baby does not get cranky or irritable waiting to settle down. Both adults and kids get cranky when they’re hungry!
3) Avoid rush hours: Try to avoid visiting restaurants and cafes in their peak hours where it’s crowded and noisy. Both crowds and noise can be overly stimulating for babies, as they are not used to this. Rush hour also means your food will take longer to reach your table, and the longer the delay, the more your baby may lose patience. Choose places that do not have loud music or boisterous crowds.
Your baby is already adjusting to an unfamiliar place and unfamiliar faces around. So as much as possible, ease them into this experience. Be patient with them; it may be tough for them initially.
4) Go with your baby’s schedule: See if you can align your eating out plans as per your baby’s meal and nap schedules. This way, your baby will not be super hungry, tired, or sleepy at the restaurant. If babies are well-rested and well-fed, there’s less chance of them being cranky later.
Sometimes, babies fall asleep at the restaurant, and the parents are the happiest!
Also, dress your baby in loose, comfortable clothing depending on whether it’s indoors (AC) or outdoors. Carry socks, blanket, or mittens if it gets too cold in the restaurant.
CARRY FROM HOME
1) Carry baby essentials: For a smooth and stress-free experience, carry:
- a bib
- extra towels or wipes for cleanup
- spare clothes for your baby
- a splat or plastic mat to be kept under or around the high chair, if your baby enjoys throwing food around.
- extra garbage or plastic bags for disposal of food and non-food waste. You can fold the splat mat, post the meal and carry it home in one of these bags, and clean them all at home. Same goes for cutlery and other items.
It’s a good idea to leave the restaurant the way you entered it, no matter what mess your baby makes!
2) Carry your baby’s food: If your baby has just started solids, pack the food that they have already accepted at home. This is not the right time to introduce new foods or allergenic foods. So, stick to foods your baby loves and can handle well, and pack them in a box or tiffin along with their usual baby-friendly cutlery. You can pack some finger foods that are less messy to pack and serve.
Alternatively, feed your baby before you leave the house, so they’re well-fed and calm. This way they’re not very hungry by the time you reach the restaurant.
An easier option is to go with breast or formula feed for your baby, which is less messy and less stressful. Your baby may just sleep off after a good feed.
3) Carry drinking water from home: Preferably carry boiled and cooled drinking water from home for your baby if they need it. We have no control over the hygiene levels of the drinking water at the restaurant.
4) Carry their stroller: It’s a good idea to carry the stroller. If your baby gets tired and wants to sleep, they can do so in their stroller and you can continue your meal.
Use the high chair (if available) for meal time. Use the stroller for nap time.
Don’t stress or feel guilty if your baby is restless or irritable. They can also sense your stress and anger, so let go of any expectations that “my baby should be behaving in this way.” If you can keep them fed, engaged, and calm, they will be less prone to fussiness.
5) Carry blocks or books to keep them busy: While you’re waiting for the food, you can engage your baby with a book or block or toy – something that’s easy for you to carry with you to the restaurant and that will keep them stimulated. This will give you some freedom to have baby-free conversations with your companions. Babies will happily play with anything around them; just make sure if they pick up any object at the restaurant, it’s safe and clean for them to fiddle with!
AT THE RESTAURANT
1) Sanitize or wipe down: Use sanitizing wipes or carry a clean cloth (with some disinfectant) from home to clean the high chair or other surfaces as you don’t know how clean the restaurant may keep them.
2) Keep away baby-unfriendly stuff: As soon as you are seated, make sure to clear away any breakable or non-baby-friendly items that may be within your baby’s reach, like plates, forks, and glassware. Request the restaurant staff to take them away once you’re seated.
So, what can your baby eat on/with?
- Carry your baby’s plate and cutlery from home and serve this once they’re in their high chair.
- Carry a clean placemat and directly place the food on the mat for your baby to pick and eat.
3) Use the high chair wisely: Put your baby in the high chair only after the food has arrived. This is because babies get frustrated waiting for food. Their attention span is limited and they get disengaged or bored if the adults around them are conversing among themselves.
When you reach the restaurant, you or a loved one can hold your baby and engage with them until the food arrives. That’s when you can place them in the high chair; they will be less resistant.
Too much time in a restrictive high chair and they’ll be irritable. Too much time in your arms while you’re trying to enjoy your meal and you’ll be irritable
4) Worst case scenario: If you feel your baby is extremely restless or fussy and you’ve tried everything but nothing seems to soothe them, do this: pay the bill, pack up your food if you like, pack up your baby’s things, and head home. It’s that simple.
Definitely try eating out with your baby another time because that experience will be different. Avoid getting angry or curt with babies as they’re not intentionally being disruptive or cranky.
ORDERING FOOD FOR YOUR BABY
If you choose to order food at the restaurant for your baby as well, here are some tips that could help.
1) Modify meals for your baby: If possible, request the restaurant to serve a portion of the food with no salt and no sugar. Salt and sugar are not advisable for babies under 1 year of age. Simple dishes like steamed veggies or mashed potato (without salt) may also be served on request.
But, it’s okay if your baby consumes small amounts of salt or sugar once in a while. They will eat less food anyway.
2) Order food you can share: Choose dishes that can be easily shared and enjoyed between you and your baby. Dishes like rice, dal, dosa, idli, wheat chapati dipped in non-spicy gravy, curd, etc., can be shared. [See the list of “Baby-Appropriate Dishes at Restaurants” later in this article.]
Finger foods: If your baby has mastered the skill of self-feeding at this point, offer them finger foods like wheat roti/chapati, paratha, dosa, idli, chilla, idiyappam, etc.
Spoon feeding: Dishes like dal rice, chicken pulao, or a rice dish with non-spicy curry can be fed to your baby.
3) Babies will eat very less: Very young babies will eat less food especially if you have already fed them at home. The reason to give them some food (whether home cooked or restaurant ordered) is to keep them engaged and involve them in the meal. When you share food with your baby, it gives them a sense of being included.
4) Ensure a safe eating environment: Babies should be in a high chair or held steadily while they’re eating. Eliminate any risk of choking hazards (avoid slippery, hard, or round foods). It’s easy to be distracted when you’re having a meal outside, so keep the baby’s food choices least messy and least complicated. This will make you less stressed as well.
Don’t Worry About…
- Nutrition: These are occasional experiences, so it’s okay. You can ensure they’re getting their nutritious meals at home.
- Eating other foods: Your baby may insist on eating something from your plate or may reach for salt/sugar-containing foods. It’s fine for them to eat food as longs as it’s well-cooked. They’re consuming very small quantities and these are one-time occurrences.
- Making noise: Babies have no idea about the etiquette of eating out. Given the unfamiliar environment, babies can be experiencing lots of things, which they cannot convey. They could be excited, curious, stimulated, or anxious. The diners around you will understand this, so don’t think that you’re being judged by strangers.
- Making a mess: Babies are messy. If you give them food, they’re even messier! The best way to deal with this is to be prepared. Carry bibs, floor mats, towels/wipes, and garbage bags, so you can clean up the mess before you leave.
- Doing it alone: Do not hesitate to ask for help. You cannot do it all alone. When you’re outdoors, ask your companions (family members or friends) to help you with some supporting tasks. It will make your job a lot easier and you will be more relaxed.
Remember, babies will be babies! They’re oblivious to what they’re doing or whom they’re around. Every baby is also different in different environments, so every “eating out with your baby” experience will be different.
Experiment, be patient, get comfortable, be flexible with your plans, go with the flow, and most importantly don’t get upset at your baby or your family members
Baby-Appropriate Dishes at Restaurants
Here are some ideas for food that you can order at a restaurant:
Best to avoid:
PART 2: EATING OUT AT SOMEONE’S HOME
Parents may also shy away from accepting invitations to someone’s house as they’re unsure how their baby will take it or how they will behave. Moms may feel this pressure of embarrassment or guilt.
There is too much uncertainty with environments you cannot control – just like the restaurant scenario discussed above. But, pause and take a deep breath. You can do this too, with some tips from our experienced parents and experts!
1) Carry your own food: You have no control over the kind of food or the time when it will be served for the adults. So, it’s best to carry your own baby food. You can pack fruits, or a one-pot meal like a khichdi or porridge, or some finger foods that your baby has learned to eat well (a less messy option).
2) Consider a portable booster or high chair: This is optional. If your host/hostess has a baby themselves, there’s a chance they have a high chair that you may be able to use. However, if you wish, take along an easy-to-carry booster chair so your baby can sit upright during mealtimes. You can also make them sit on your lap.
3) Carry baby essentials: Bibs, mats, wipes, toys, books – whatever you think your baby will need and may soothe them if they get irritable. Alternatively, you can give breast or formula feed for the few hours you’re there. Give your baby the freedom to choose, and they will likely be more content! Avoid any mess-inducing foods at someone’s house, as clean-up is tough and parents may get stressed or embarrassed.
4) Leave if you need to: Don’t even think twice about taking this step. Your loved ones will understand. Babies can be unpredictable and you cannot control what their mood may be that evening. If you feel your baby is not calming down or is irritable and the only option is to take them home, do that without any guilt.
Sometimes, if there are too many adults, babies may fuss for attention or affection. This is completely normal, and others will understand. Thank your host/hostess for being accommodating and kind.
Eating out (whether at restaurants or someone’s home) is a great opportunity for babies to have new experiences and learn ways of social interaction. Be flexible and go with your baby’s cues. Over time, your baby will get used to these experiences and you will too! You are creating lasting memories with your baby and helping them develop good eating and social habits as they grow up.