So, inevitably you have to take your messy little cherub out for a meal as some point. Initially it may be lunch in a café with mummy friends, but you will have to graduate to the slightly more formal confines of a pub or restaurant. DO NOT PANIC! It will be fine. Here’s the most important thing you need to know – you can clear up any mess they make at the end of the meal, so don’t stress about the mess during the meal, you’ll only spoil it for yourself. And if anyone looks at you in disgust, you can freely imagine it’s because they ordered something gross rather than you assuming that they are concerned about the mess your baby is making. Now that I have three youngsters with me, most people who feel the need to comment, are usually coming over to tell me how impressed they are with my children’s behaviour and appetite. So you have nothing to worry about.
Here are some other really important things to know:
Most highchairs in pubs/cafés & restaurants don’t have a tray – which makes baby-led weaning difficult unless you’re going to feed them directly off the table (and they’ll definitely fling a plate given half the chance), so take a silicone mat with you. I have one small enough to fit in my change bag, so I have it everywhere I go. See my equipment section for an example.
You can order from the menu or take some preprepared bits with you. In my experience, places don’t mind you feeding your baby stuff from home so long as you’re ordering something for you. Now that I have three, I generally just order something from the menu. If your baby is at the stage that they’ll eat quite a lot, you’ll find that a lot of places have a reasonably good children’s menu. You’ll always find a cheesy pasta on there. One word of warning: spaghetti bolognese or anything similar is going to be insanely messy and is likely to inspire an outfit change, so try to be savvy about the meals you order. Or if you want to share your meal, be certain to check with the staff about the salt levels and honey content. You can ask to have your meal with no added salt, but you’ll be hard pushed to find a meal that’s entirely cooked from scratch when you order it!
When your food arrives, it will probably be steaming hot, so ask them to give it to you – your baby could get a nasty shock if they touch a burning hot plate. And make sure you keep the wet wipes handy and have a nappy bag for rubbish on the floor at the ready. Any food that’s dropped in a walkway can quickly be chucked into the nappy bag so that it doesn’t cause a slip hazard! And at the end of the meal you can quickly wipe everything up into the bag ready to be tidied away. Sometimes staff offer to come over to tidy up. I always insist that I’ll do it & I usually win! I guess I feel that I have a point to prove! Oh, & I always leave 10% tip for their troubles.
Drink – if you haven’t got a sippy cup with you, ask for a glass of tap water in a glass or cup suitable for a baby. Some places are well set up for children and have plastic cups and straws. If not, it’s fine, just help your baby drink from an open cup or share your glass and make sure it’s out of their reach when it’s on the table – as they’ll likely try to grab it!