Baby-Led Weaning: Eating Out and About (A Two-Parter)
Baby-Led Weaning in the comfort of your own home is one thing, but what if you are out and about being social butterflies? The practicalities of eating out can be very different so I decided that I would jot down some useful tips for eating away from home with your little one(s). In this post I will concentrate on "Eating Out" at restaurants.
The Twins Eating Out at a Family Lunch with Friends
Part One: Top Tips for Eating Out with your Baby-Led Baby
Dealing with Baby High Chairs/Seating
Most restaurants these days do provide high chairs for little visitors, but they can be uncomfortable or if you are just starting your Baby-Led Weaning journey the chairs are often too large which means that your baby slides down in them! A method that we found useful was to remove the cushion from our ikea high chairs at home (see my other post on "Navigating the Early Stages of BLW" for more details) and inserting them into the restaurant chairs to help the twins sit up. However, this is all very well but what if you are caught short or spontaneously decide to stop for a bite to eat with the family? It isn’t the most fool-proof method, I’ll admit, but that’s when baby blankets, jackets and coats would come into play! We would fold them up and wedge them around the twins creating our own cushion to limit their movements and stop them sliding down or leaning over the sides! A friend of mine (Mrs Lighty – see her blog: All Things Spliced for great posts on motherhood and family lifestyle) also came across an ingenious method of using a baby carrier to fashion a baby harness on a regular restaurant seat!
Baby Lighty looking happy in his makeshift baby carrier/high chair harness
Another contraption that we have found helpful is the Munchkin travel booster seat. We came across these at an Aldi baby event and haven't looked back! They are really handy as you can just keep them in the car ready for when they're needed. To be honest, we mainly use them when we visit friends or at my parents' house, but it definitely makes it easier than lugging around folded highchairs in the back of the car! However, the travel booster seats aren't very rigid so are best used by babies that are good at sitting up for long periods of time. Equally, it is helpful to note that really chunky toddlers wouldn't be best suited to this either as they will be able to lean from side to side and not be as restrained as you might like! However, the Munchkin travel booster seat does have a useful cavity where you can keep a packed lunch or bowls, spoons, bibs etc. which will save you taking an extra bag with you for these items.
Is it worth bringing tableware for my BLW Baby?
There are many types of bowls, plates, spoons, beakers etc. (see my other post "Navigating the Early Stages of BLW" for detailed suggestions) which may seem like a lot of hassle to take with you when you are out so it is really down to personal preference. As we have the twins I did tend to take bowls and cutlery with us, mainly because I didn't trust Little Master A not to drop the restaurant plates onto the floor! Additionally, it was so that while the twins were still eating small portions we could either give them a bit of what we were having or order a child's meal and divide it between them. However, fellow parents, there was one time that I spontaneously decided to buy the twins some yoghurt at a soft play centre but they didn't have any suitable spoons for babies and toddlers! The only spoons on offer were flimsy plastic ones that Little Master A would be able to bite through in an instant (very dangerous, if you ask me!) and there were no metal teaspoons to hand as an alternative. Because of this, I did start leaving a baby/weaning spoon in our changing bag for awhile so that I would always have one to hand in case we ever found ourselves in that situation again!
Hygiene and Cleanliness for Mucky Hands and Messy Faces
For those of you that are as pedantic as I am, I often carry antibacterial wipes with me just in case I need to wipe down any surfaces when we’re out! Restaurants are usually fine, but pub tables can sometimes have grubby bits of sauce on them etc. which wouldn’t matter too much if it wasn’t for the fact that a plate or bowl just isn’t enough for Little Master A - he sometimes likes to put things on the surface before picking them up to eat! This is why I sometimes give surfaces a wipe if I think that Little Master A is likely to put his food on it before eating.
Another reason to take the wipes along is that depending on where we are going I sometimes bring the twins' suction bowls and cutlery with us to avoid any accidental breakage of restaurant crockery! The wipes make it easy to clean their bowls after they have eaten so that I don’t have to carry dirty bowls home with me (I wash them when we get home). As with almost all parents, I do love a good baby wipe (they can clean everything!) so I always make sure to have regular ones with us to clean messy faces and hands before or after eating. They are also useful for cleaning up any mess your baby leaves behind if it is so much that you find it embarrassing!
Keeping your Baby Happy and (Relatively) Patient
When it comes to food, Little Master A can be impatient. He definitely knows the meaning of the word "hangry" and as soon as we sit down at a table in a restaurant he knows that tasty food is coming! It seems counter-productive seeing as you are about to eat, but it can be useful to take a few small/light snacks with you (fruit or vegetable sticks, a few pieces of plain pasta, rice cakes etc) just to tide Baby over while you are waiting. Alternatively, be sure to bring a book or small toy with you to keep your little one occupied. Some restaurants do think of their younger clientele and provide placemats with crayons or pencils, but they may not suit all babies (when the twins were young they would either rip the placemat or break/try to eat the crayons)!
Another tip is that some restaurants are helpful and will bring your child's food as soon as it is ready (even if everyone else's food is still being cooked). It might be worth requesting this so that your little one isn't kept waiting too long. Once their stomach is full they will be happier to sit there while you concentrate on eating your meal! Also bear in mind that you will need to factor in cooling time; Baby may want to grab at food as soon as the plate hits the table, but you will need to leave some time for it to cool which could also bring your baby to breaking point!
Nappy Changing Facilities when Eating Out with Baby
This can be a bit of a minefield, but generally speaking most major chain restaurants in the UK have ample facilities. Failing this, quite a lot of restaurants combine the disabled facilities with a nappy changing area. I did find it helpful to always make sure the foldable changing mat was packed (shop my favourite one by Polar Gear here - it is still going strong years later!) so that I could place it on top of the changing table or if I was really desperate and the restaurant didn't have a nappy changing area then I could usher the twins into a regular cubicle and change them on the floor (yeuch!).
Top Items for Baby when Eating Out
Baby Wipes for mucky hands and messy faces (trusty muslins are also great too!)
Anti-bacterial wipes for grubby tables and to clear up the aftermath
Small snacks or toys to keep Baby occupied while you are waiting for your food to come
Something soft to line the restaurant high chair/prop your baby upright into a good sitting/eating position
A Weaning Bib (see "Navigating the Early Stages of BLW" for helpful suggestions)
A clean change of clothes if new to BLW and your changing mat
Tableware, cutlery (optional although baby-sized cutlery in particular is helpful) and sippy cup/360 miracle cup/beaker
Don't forget the sunscreen and a sun hat if you will be eating outside!
Top Things for Parents when Eating Out as a Family
Patience - (when do you not need this as a parent?!)
Tolerance - your baby will most likely want to grab things from your plate even if you order them the same dish!
First class distraction skills - Baby will either be impatient and fussy or be in awe of their surroundings so will be distracted by the sights/sounds and smells!
Baby Wipes - everyone needs baby wipes, even us parents! Little Master A loves to get mucky hands which usually end up in my hair or on my clothes!
A spare plastic carrier bag - handy for throwing dirty baby tableware (or you can baby wipe it clean before washing it at home!) or messy clothes in (yours or your baby's - I won't judge!)
Five Deep Breaths - remember that you are out to enjoy your meal as a family and there is much fun, laughter and bonding to be had at meal times!
Check out the second post of this two-parter for "Top Tips for Eating Out and About with your Baby-Led Baby" on the move.
The Twins Eating Out in Restaurant High Chairs