I love going out to eat. I love trying new food, the atmosphere, people watching, catching up with the hubs or friends, sitting at the bar to eat and have a drink. I felt it was so fun and relaxing…and then I had kids. I still love to eat out- but it’s harder for sure. I naively thought it would be simpler before I had kids. It took having babies to realize that sometimes dinner out is bailing mid-way through because your tinderbox (aka toddler) is not feeling it tonight. Or the baby does not want you to sit down today, like at all. Sometimes dinner is your toddler barely looking up at you from their iPad and rotting their brain on yet another video of ‘mommy finger’. Sometimes parenthood is just survival. And, sometimes those kiddos are happy as clams and entertain themselves while you finish your wine. Those victories are what keep you going back out for more despite all the craziness. I have found some things that for us have helped to minimize the stress and preserve our sanity. Let me know if you have any other good ones!
- Order your food right away- babies and young children just don’t have it in them to sit around for long periods of time and lounge. So the ‘order your drinks and relax and then have an app and then order your food’ is likely a thing of the past. They get antsy and irritable so keeping your meals out short will help to prevent a lot of stress and meltdowns. We scope the menu and when our server comes to get our drink orders, we order our food then as well.
- Ask for the check and to-go boxes early- same reasons. It gives you the ability to bolt without waiting on your server if they get super busy. Then, if all is going well, you can just sit and relax until you’re ready to go.
- Breakfast may be your best meal out- this tends to be the baby/child sweet spot for being out for meals. You’re up early anyway and restaurants tend to be less crowded earlier. Prime lunch and dinner time hours tend to push nap and bedtimes and kids are usually a bit crankier then. This obviously will adjust depending on the age of your child (young babies who nap twice a day, lunch may be the best meal out for you)—avoiding their most tired times when possible is really the bottom line.
- Choose a family friendly restaurant- easy way to identify one; if they have napkin dispensers on the table, usually they’re family friendly :) Larger sports bars are also pretty handy due to a few well-placed TV screens. We still eat at nicer restaurants occasionally, but places that are faster, louder and less expensive tend to be our go-to.
- Call ahead or make a reservation if they offer the option- for the same reasons that we order right away, waiting 25-45 minutes for a table is just not going to work for us when dining out with our kids.
- Bring gear that makes your life easier
- Phil and Ted’s Lobster high chair- I love this high chair! It helped us be flexible on where we could sit when we went out. When a high top was the only option or an outside bar or picnic table was what was left we just clipped it to the table. Cannot be used on pedestal tables or those that aren’t bolted down, just FYI.
- The ‘pulp’ by Boon- this bad boy is a winner in my book. It’s great for when your child is too young for solids but is trying out flavors and likes to chew on things. Basically, you put food in it and they suck on it. What’s left inside is pretty gross but this beauty gave us many a peaceful dinners together as our babe just sat happily gnawing to her heart’s content.
- A silicone catch bib- because kids are the messiest eaters alive. They seriously need a drop cloth. Truth be told, I feel terrible leaving a huge mess under my child’s high chair and this helps to minimize the quantity by a good bit. It also prevents their pants from catching all the byproduct of attempting to shove massive handfuls of food in their mouths, which inevitably doesn’t make it in.
- Bring activities & snacks- coloring books, crayons, magic markers, iPad; whatever it takes to keep them occupied. My kids also get hangry and so if the food is delayed or it’s busy, a well-timed fruit pouch or fruit snack just might save the day.
- Stay flexible and bring your patience and a sense of humor- I find this helpful with all aspects of parenting. I read once that happiness = reality minus your expectation. I think that’s true—if you expect a flawless meal, you’ll be disappointed when it doesn’t go accordingly. Taking kids out is tough. It’s just where we’re at right now. Eventually, they’ll get easier and that second glass of wine may not be so out of reach :)
*I have zero affiliation with any products mentioned in this post nor received any compensation. These are things that simply made things a little easier for me and my littles.