Have you ever been in a restaurant and there is a child at the next table having a stage five meltdown? Or were trying to enjoy a meal with friends and the kids from the next table were running around like banshees? We’ve all been there pre-babies, and likely thought, “I’ll never be like THAT mom.” Fast forward a few years and more likely than not, we’ve been that mom. Or, we’re so absolutely terrified of being in that position we’re afraid to leave our house. You’re absolutely not alone if you’ve wondered how to eat out with a baby or toddler. Although it’s not as easy to leave the house once you have kids, I promise it’s worth it. Staying cooped up inside all the time isn’t good for anyone. With just a few tips and tricks, you can ward off one of those stage five meltdowns and enjoy some quality time with your family.
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The Newborn Stage vs. The Toddler Stage
Going out with a newborn is much different than going out with a toddler. Assessing which phase you’re in and planning accordingly will really help with successful outings. For a newborn, you’ll want to make sure they don’t get hungry and stay as comfortable as possible. Best case scenario, you’ll be able to plan your meal around a nap. You can leave the baby in her car seat in a sling by the table. With a little luck, the nap may last your entire meal. It may seem incredibly daunting to go out with a newborn as a new mom, but take it from a veteran, it’s actually easier the younger they are. As a bonus, figuring out how to eat out with a baby makes it easier to transition into eating out with a toddler.
What to bring: Infants
Nursing cover or bottle of breastmilk
The quickest way to calm down your fussy baby while you’re out to eat will be to feed her. If you’re nursing, just bring your cover with you and you can breastfeed at the table. If that makes you uncomfortable you can bring pumped milk and ask for a cup of hot water to warm it up. Newborns typically get sleepy after they eat, so this may be just what you need to get yourself an uninterrupted meal.
…for the blowouts. Blowouts happen. At the most inconvenient times. Make sure you pack extra clothes so you don’t need to go home if baby needs a change.
White noise or another soothing app.
My little lady loved the Sleep Pillow app’s rain sound when she was younger. I’d stick my phone on top of her car seat if she was losing it, and it almost always put her to sleep. This is super useful if you need something to calm down your baby while you’re eating.
What to bring: Toddlers
Taking a toddler out to lunch or dinner is an entirely different matter. Although you have a little more warning about what makes them tick, sometimes tantrums are totally random. You can remedy most newborn crying with food, a diaper change, or some cuddling. Toddlers can sometimes require the skills of a hostage negotiator. The good news is, your prep will pay off more with a toddler. They are easier to entertain for longer spans of time. If you bring a few different items you may get some uninterrupted time to eat without a baby in your arms!
So many things are solved with snacks. Whether or not your child is just bored or truly hungry and can’t wait for the meal, having a snack on hand is a lifesaver. It will tide over hungry tummies until the meal arrives and serves as an important distraction
This is another distraction tactic. Any easily portable toy or activity wins here. Coloring books and crayons are available at most restaurants, but if you have someone who likes to color on your hands, bring your own. Ideally, you’ll have at least two activities with you when you go out. If your meal takes a long time to arrive, this helps take up additional time while you wait for food.
iPhone app or movie.
This is your secret weapon last resort. Please don’t pull this out as soon as you sit down. It will lose its appeal and you’ll be stuck with a bored toddler for the rest of the meal. Let all the other toys lose their novelty first and then as a last resort while you finish your meal, open up the phone to play with an app or watch a favorite show. I am aware that screen time is bad for children under age two. However, sometimes, you just need to eat.
These are awesome for quick cleanup and you don’t have to worry about the cleanliness of the table. Highly recommend.
Give yourself a break
With all the preparation in the world, the only thing you can be sure of is that things won’t go as planned. These little people have minds of their own and life happens. If the baby screams bloody murder when you put her down, it’s ok. If your toddler shrieks at the top of his lungs when the chicken nuggets aren’t shaped like dinosaurs, you’ll survive. Although it feels like the entire restaurant is staring at you, it’s truly not that big of a deal. Most people are tuning it out. If they do notice, they’re likely a sympathetic parent themselves.
Don’t let the fear of bad behavior or crying keep you from doing the things you did pre-baby. If you’re out and things go a little sideways, chalk it up to a loss and try again. It’s important for both you and your child to get out of the house. If you come prepared with a few key entertainment items you’re much more likely to get through the meal smoothly. Don’t sweat it if there are a few tears. Most people aren’t looking anyway.