Venturing out to eat with a baby in tow is quite a do-able feat, especially if timed to coincide with one of his many naps – and even if bub does wake up, it’s not as if he can go anywhere.
But as soon as your little one finds his legs, usually around nine to 12 months, it’s a whole different ballgame.
It’s tough sitting still with just a few pram toys when you can cruise or toddle and there’s so much to explore. As he starts to squirm in his seat, you can just feel the meltdown brewing – which means a meal out can easily become a tag team affair as you take turns to wolf down your food and keep a small person from starting World War Three in your local café.
Rediscovering those relaxing Sunday brunches when you’re catering to an adventurous one or two-year-old requires some careful planning and plenty of distractions at the ready. Here are some top tips for eating out in relative harmony:
- Timing is everything.
Make sure bub is well rested before venturing out for a meal and head off either straight after a nap or with plenty of time before the next one’s due. Alternatively, if your little one drops off easily in the pram, you could time your meal to coincide with a sleep – just be ready for a walk around the block if he gets rudely awakened. A tired, cranky baby is no-one’s idea of a fun dinner guest.
- Picking your venue.
Look for somewhere fairly laid-back and kid friendly, ideally with high chairs or room for a pram if bub’s snoozing. If your toddler’s awake and full of beans, the Holy Grail is some outside space with a few trucks or a doll’s house thrown in for good measure. Nappy changing facilities are also a bonus but it’s a good idea to pack a portable changing mat just in case.
- Bag of tricks.
Your chosen café or restaurant may well have a few toys or colouring pencils. Whether they’re in working order is another matter, so it’s best to pack some of bub’s best-loved play things; anything that fits on a highchair tray is a good bet. And if it’s a particularly special meal, say a birthday or anniversary, it’s worth buying something new and keeping it under wraps until she starts getting bored. Just keep your fellow diners in mind and steer clear of anything noisy.
- Edible distractions.
These days kids’ menus are pretty commonplace but to tide your little one over you’ll want a few of his favourite snacks to hand, preferably something he can’t gobble down in seconds. Bread sticks are great for younger bubs. Likewise, fruit bars, soft-cooked veggie sticks or pasta pieces are good options to keep restless fingers busy. Avoid the temptation to order your bub’s food first. If it comes too quickly the chances are he’ll be done and dusted and ready to go just as your meal arrives.
- Managing expectations.
Bear in mind how long a toddler can realistically sit in the same spot – a three-course meal with all the trimmings is obviously pushing your luck. To this end, don’t spend too long weighing up the options before placing your order. If you want to be super organised you could jump online and check out the menu before heading out, that way you get to make every minute count once you’re there.
Of course meals out won’t always go to plan and if you’re up and down like a yo-yo retrieving toys and bits of food and apologising profusely to your neighbours, it’s probably time to cut your loses and leave. Eateries are usually more than happy to put leftover meals in take-out containers. And you can take some consolation in the knowledge that you are helping to socialise your bub – one baby step at a time – so when they do eventually strike out on their own later in life they won’t be throwing food at fellow diners!
About the author: Jo Sharp
Jo has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years. Based in Sydney, she covers both business and lifestyle topics and has written numerous articles about pregnancy and parenting. When she’s not glued to her laptop, she can be found out and about in Bondi with her two kids.