Toys & Tips for Dining Out with your Little One

Toys & Tips for Dining Out with your Little One

Getting out of the house with a new baby can be intimidating, and rightfully so. It's not easy! Logistics are TOUGH, timing is TOUGH, psychic ability to predict baby's demeanor is TOUGH. It's like all of the cards have to fall into the right place to make dining out an enjoyable experience.

Getting out of the house with a new baby can be intimidating, and rightfully so. It's not easy! Logistics are TOUGH, timing is TOUGH, psychic ability to predict baby's demeanor is TOUGH. It's like all of the cards have to fall into the right place to make dining out an enjoyable experience.

But whether your child is 2 weeks old, or 2 years old - it is still important to get out of the house and enjoy dining on the town! (Especially in Jersey City where there are so many great local restaurants to check out.) I've found dining out with my husband and daughter to be a whole new special experience that, while it has it's challenges, is also super rewarding for my tastebuds and my mental wellbeing.

Here are my favorite Tips & Toys for making dining out with a baby or toddler a great experience.

1. The special backpack - My daughter has a special kids sized backpack that I fill with odds and ends and we only bring it out for two occasions: traveling on airplanes, and dining out at restaurants. This keeps exploring the backpack exciting for her. When she was younger, I'd stash teethers, rattles, any small little toys inside. Now that she is 2.5 years old, I have figurines, coloring supplies, and tiny notepads & coloring books in there ready to go at all times. But that's not all - the trick is to fill the bag with tons of trinkets so that the possibilities are bountiful. (Think: Mary Poppins!?) I put old wallets with expired gift cards in there, compact mirrors, key chains. The type of thing you might throw away but would be fun for a child to explore and play with! I keep the backpack hanging on a hook in her room, so if a last minute dinner date-night is a possibility - I can grab and go without scrambling!

2. Reusable Sticker Books -  With reusable sticker books, you can restick the stickers over and over to create new storylines. At Hazel Baby, there are really cute city scene options from Peaceable Kingdom. I find if I spend just a couple of minutes with my toddler "setting the scene" then I can enjoy a good 5 - 10 minutes of her playing on her own with the idea. For example, you can pull out this sticker book and name the characters, talk about where they are going, and what they see on the street. That one minute starting dialogue peaks her own imagination and gets her entertaining herself. Throughout the dinner I can ask about the character - For example, "Is Hannah having fun on her adventure? Is there a car for Hannah? Can you Find Hannah's Dog?" All referencing the sticker 'character' we created and named Hannah.

3. Plan for baby to eat while you eat! Food makes for great fun. Let your child get creative with sorting fruit colors on their plate, or making a face out of pasta. Under a certain age, manners aren't quite in play yet and finding a half hour of entertainment is more important than getting their hands a little messy. I remember the first time my daughter used a straw, she was about 14 months old and we were at a Mexican restaurant. It was tons of fun to see her light up and we even started blowing bubbles with the straw in her water cup. (Okay so definitely not the best manners, but it sure did keep her laughing for a while!) It's also always a great idea to order something right away for the littlest ones right when you order drinks - whether thats bread or a side dish - something easy that can come out from the kitchen quickly.

4. Flash cards are fun for the whole family. There's nothing sweeter than when a little one's face lights up because they learned something new! Toddler flash cards are a great portable 'game' that can keep everyone a the table laughing & smiling. I find myself doing a quick round of the set with my little one, and then throughout the dinner I'll hand her 3-5 at a time for her to flip through on her own. You can mix it up with saying what sound the animal makes, or identifying the first letter of the animal's name, versus just identifying the picture. Great for ages 12 months and up!

5. Highbrow App for phone or tablet - Many people, including myself, try to limit screen time for children. But the fact is, we adults use them all day, every day ourselves and our childrens' natural desire to do what Mommy & Daddy do makes limiting screen time that much harder. That's why I was so excited to find out about  High Brow -- it's an app for children with highly curated educational video content! And started by a local Jersey City Mom! With this app, you can loose some of the guilt and enjoy a meal out at a restaurant by letting your child watch some great content. It was recently selected as Apple's "App of the Day" (Big props to this amazing local mom-prenuer with vision!)

6. In my experience, there are a few things that tend to be inconsistent with bringing a baby to a restaurant. I'm calling this final group the "Let's not assume..." category.

  • ...there will be a changing table in the bathroom. In fact, many restaurants in big cities lack changing tables due to space constraints. This can be worked around by bringing a disposable or portable changing mat with you! For small babies, ask for a booth in the back so you can lay the baby down for a quick change if needed. Often times, there may be an extra dining room not in use where you can lay the baby on a booth seat with a changing pad underneath.
  • ...there will be crayons. Man, I have made this mistake too many times myself. Sometimes, if I forget to bring crayons - which of course still happens to me - I hold my breath and say a quick prayer when I ask the hostess! My secret tip is to keep a pencil case in your stroller or diaper bag with crayons. You can always turn a paper placemat into a coloring activity if you've got the crayons handy!
  • ...strollers will be allowed at the table. I hate to say it, because you should be able to bring a sleeping baby in a stroller anywhere. (They're people too, after all) However the truth is that there are plenty of restaurants that will make you fold up the stroller and stow it. And I get it, there needs to be a clear path for staff and servers. Many restaurants are crowded as-is. My advice is to scope the scene prior to bringing a baby ages 0 - 6 months. Is there ample room or a corner table that would work to keep the stroller at? If not, can you detach the bassinet and set it in the booth with you? Another great work around to this is to schedule your dinner date at an off-hour, when the restaurant is less busy and can make accommodations. A little mental prep in this department can spare you a frustrating experience when all you want to do is sit down and eat!
  • ...there will be a kids menu. Not all restaurants have them. If you've got a picky eater on your hands, bring the little one a snack from home. The 'sides' portion of a menu is often a great place for kids choices - steamed veggies, etc. Its also fun to engage your little one in this conversation, get them excited about trying new things and asking for their order in fun & silly ways. Like, "Would you prefer to have green trees or green logs for dinner?" Translates to: Broccoli or green beans. 

I hope this list is helpful and inspires you to make those dinner plans with tot in tow!

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