Chef Lij Heron with our bubs Jaja, at two months in his restaurant, Lexington Grill at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. Such an iconic picture or present and future. A father and his legacy…. (and the audacity we had to take a 2 month old with us to dinner)!
Let’s get one thing straight, your guess is as good as ours. Like babies and toddlers are the most unpredictable inhabitants of the earth… well them and animals. It is true what we say in show business, the most tedious set is one with a baby or an animal. You never know what will happen next- it gets even more nerve-wracking in a live broadcast. Just so you know, I am being rather cheeky with the headline … but this is probably how everyone without a child eyes your little bundle of joy the moment an audible noise erupts from his or her mouth or runs like Usain Bolt pass their table with you puffing slowly behind. But fun and jokes aside, modern families like ours tend to eat out quite a bit even if we are selective in how much we do so. When compared with 1-3 generations ago, a family meal out happens far more often then it did then, when most dining out experiences were relegated to very special occasions and included dinner in other people’s homes, which frankly is not the same as a restaurant.
Our two year old knows the word “restaurant.” In fact, when I am dressing him up in fancy clothes he often asks if we are going to church, the restaurant, the hotel, Funville or the supermarket. As a home-based toddler (no nursery yet), I guess that sums up exciting adventures out for him.
Kids of hospitality and restaurant families tend to dine out more than others because well… it’s just part of the lifestyle and perks of the industry. Restaurant meals in the same company are often discounted and senior management and their families will sometimes get to dine free in some comapanies. Even so, many still dine outside of home restaurants/properties because it’s nice to be out and see what others are doing. Our toddler has been visiting restaurants since he was two months old- and dining only on breastmilk. So from 2 months -2 years, here’s what we have found helps with him. By all means add your own tips in the comments and share your own experiences. We only have one child now and know things get very different with additions. We would love to hear about those as well.
How to get your infant/baby to “behave” in a restaurant
- Book dinner before regular sleep time or afterwards so that bubs is likely to be asleep the whole time.
- If baby is awake at the start of dinner, be sure to give him a very long feeding. If you can find a nice quiet corner to nurse bubs into contentment, do it. I walked with a nursing cover when bubs was younger and not old enough to yank it off. Nursing in the dark also helped to calm him down in a strange place.
- If you plan to consume alcohol, bring pumped breastmilk in a cooler bag. So that both nursing and bottles will cover you for up to 4-6 hours after you have had a tipple. I don’t know about you but at 2.5 months, I was thrilled to have my first glass of champagne.
- Bring your pram with the bassinet attachment or car seat (whichever baby sleeps better in).
- Take a boothe where possible if your baby is only in a carseat so you can put it between both of you and swap on each side from time to time to relieve each other for a bit.
- If you have opted for the stroller, keep it with you. That rocking motion with your foot while you tuck into a great lamb chop is magic.
- As soon as baby barely begins to fuss, try to keep on top of it and respond accordingly if things escalate. This means taking baby out of stroller sometimes and cuddling in the arms. Then you definitely have to take turns eating if you haven’t perfect the one arm eating manoeuvre.
- Sit near to an exit… whether its the outdoor balcony or the hotel lobby or outside the restaurant just in case mega screaming starts and you cannot stop it.
- Dress baby comfortably.
- Long sleeves and hats are good in cold restaurants. Bring a blanket to swaddle if you have your bassinet.
- Be prepared for a few wardrobe changes for baby.
- Change nappy before sleep time.
- Enjoy yourself. You are out among real adults in decent clothes and actually get to have a nice conversation with somebody who can talk back to you.
Remember things can escalate immediately. Babies go from being pretty chilled to fussy to complete knocked out in moments.
Here’s a series I snapped when Jaja was about 4 months…
And then he grew up. #GameChanger
How to get your toddler to “behave” in a restaurant
- Take a chill pill- literally or figuratively- you will need it.
- Book dinner way ahead of bedtime.
- Be prepared to order quickly and leave early in case your toddler refuses to sleep outside his bed like ours.
- If going for breakfast or brunch, try to avoid nap times especially for those toddlers who don’t fall asleep in public and like to fight sleep as if their lives depend on it (like ours).
- Bring toys. Leave the squeaky noisy ones and the trucks and rolling toys but small little ones are good distractions.
- Activity sheets and crayons are great for them to use at the table. Some restaurants provide them as placemats but take your own just in case.
- Walk around the restaurant or hotel lobby before you sit. Your toddler may likely be a little cranky after being strapped in car seat and will appreciate the opportunity to stretch the legs a bit before being made to sit again.
- Get a toddler chair and make a big fuss about how wonderful it is and how it is bub’s own chair!
- Make them part of the conversation and encourage them to talk to the waiters as well. Toddlers love attention. All will break loose if you dare to ignore them.
- In fact, if you encourage your child to talk and interact with the restaurant staff, they may actually develop a bond and walk off for a minute together and that will go a long way to keeping bubs occupied going from person to person.
- Give them food that they can feed themselves to occupy their concentration plus they love to feel like “adults” when they self feed. You may have to cut food up yourself. That comes with the territory.
- Order the pasta. You cannot go wrong there. That is why every chef will have a pasta dish on the Kids’ Menu. We ordered pasta with pink sauce (at brunch together at Delphine at The Hotel illustrated here) because it has both creaminess and tomatoes. There’s more protein as well from the added dairy. I also order rice a lot because he loves rice. Yours may ask for soy sauce in an Italian restaurant and pancit in a Turkish restaurant. Just laugh. Waiters understand and chefs will try to accommodate as much as possible.
- Give them fruits like grapes, though watch them and teach them how to bite grapes and not put them whole into their mouths to prevent choking hazards.
- Buffets offer lots of variety so this may be a plus for picky eaters (as opposed to ordering things that bubs refuse to eat).
- Keep them occupied- with toys, conversation and when all else fails, take selfies.
- Definitely sit near the exit-for bathroom visits and for the times when they have had enough of being restrained in their high chairs.
- Do not give them sugary drinks or sweet things (you don’t need a sugar tantrum on your hands).
- Go for a nappy change midway or towards the end of your meal. You can also use this time to break up the scenery so that bubs will be less bored and less inclined to go ballistic.
- Upon leaving the restaurant at night, change toddler into pyjamas and have breast or bottle ready for a night feed before you drive off. Bubs will sleep better and you can have a nice lovey dovey drive home.
- Know when to hold, em, fold em, walk away and run. Like totally be prepared for everything. I usually have two bottles of milk and a wardrobe change just in case and other snacks as well.