So to jump into the real content of this blog, I want to start by discussing something simple that makes life fuller and makes travel easier: dinning out in restaurants with your child. Sometimes I have to remind myself that despite the many reasons to simply eat at home everyday, there are equally as many reasons why we should put on some nice clothes and go out for a family dinner every now and then. I find the motivation to brave a dinner out especially lacking in the winter months, when the weather is cold and the daylight is short. It’s easier to make the mess at home, to have the peace of mind that the food will be eaten and that it is a healthy and wholesome balanced meal that I am serving. It is just more relaxed at home, am I right Mamas? No annoyed couple at the table next to you, no hungry toddler who gets cranky while waiting for the food that is taking too long (which is probably too salty and fatty anyway). I could go on with reasons not to. But this is the exact rut my mind finds itself in on many weekend nights when we are deciding what to do for dinner. If you find yourself thinking like this, here are some reasons I hope will inspire you to think differently (and stay tuned after for my tips on how to make your dining experience a positive one):
1. It teaches your child how to act in a public setting.
What better way to teach your toddler the proper way to behave at the dinner table than by example. Yes, of course, you do this every night at home (well, most of the time), but when you are out the stakes are higher and everyone is expected to have more formal table manners. If you never take your kid out when they are young, especially to a nicer restaurant, it will be that much more difficult to try to do it when they are 5 or 6 years old and don’t know what is expected of them.
2. It is a great time to bond as a family.
Being able to sit altogether while your every need is attended to is a luxury! When we go out, I am not running around to get everything on the table, getting up to refill the milk, etc. I can focus entirely on Hashem and Nesrine. Even though Nesrine is only 19 months, we like to practice conversation skills with her. For instance, we will each say how our days were or what we did. Nesrine still relies on me to narrate, but I ask her questions and involve her in telling Baba about her day (as simple as “We colored today. Nesrine, what did you color a picture of?” to which her response is always “dirdie” AKA “birdie”). We try to do this at home most nights, but there is something more deliberate about it when we go out to eat.
3. It widens the palate, fostering a good eater.
Going out to a variety of styles of restaurants of course will give your child a large variety of cuisines and tastes! The younger you start getting your toddler to be open to try new foods, the better eater they will be as they get older (and pickier!). Case in point: I probably would not have thought to give Nesrine Edamame beans, it isn’t something I generally cook at home, but last weekend we ordered them and Nesrine tried and loved them! She called them “mammmeee” and ate half the bowl.
4. It changes the pace of your daily routine.
An occasional break in routine is refreshing and revitalizing for you as a mom and for your toddler as well! Going out to eat is a simple way to do that. We go out for dinner about 1-2x per month, we tend to do weekend lunches out more often than dinner. A lot of this is because I enjoy and prefer to cook myself (and it’s healthier!). But even once a month, in my opinion, is frequent enough to change the pace from the monotonous daily repetition that is having a baby or toddler.
5. If this skill is mastered, it makes traveling easier.
The more confident you are that your toddler can *most of the time* eat out successfully, the more enjoyable traveling will be for your family. There are countless things to think about and remember and plan when traveling with a young child or baby, if dinning out is second nature it will be one less thing to worry about. Practicing eating out on a regular basis means you know how to handle all possible scenarios when you are in a different city (and eating out most or all of the time). Disclaimer: NEVER brag about how good your baby does at restaurants or you will find yourself 30 minutes later in the Washington, D.C. debacle of 2015. Zaytinya will never be the same again. Poor 2 month-old Nesrine had some kind of epic gas possibly, it will forever be a mystery. Her screams still echo in the bathroom there…
Tips On How To Do It!
So! There are many reasons to take your baby/child with you when you go out to eat. Now I will share with you my first-hand wisdom 😉
*Start taking them as babies
My first big recommendation is to start when they are a baby and keep going! You can do it because you are an awesome parent and can handle any situation. We used to take Nesrine out all the time when she was tiny (it is way easier before they start eating by the way!). Here she is at Soba around one month old. She slept the entire dinner!
Here she is last weekend. This time she ate the entire dinner!
*Know your child and be flexible
Know that sometimes your perfect child wakes up from a nap in the worst mood. Maybe that night you change your plans to stay in instead, since you know trying to sit at a restaurant would be a disaster. That’s okay! That is life with a young child. Similarly, sometimes you just have to be okay to box your dinner and leave the restaurant. We have had our share of times where Nesrine was so distracted or fussy that she didn’t want to eat a bite of the food, and, as you probably know, if they don’t eat YOU don’t eat either. Somehow you and your partner have that subliminal moment of understanding: get the bill, ask for a box, and let’s get the hell out of here! Don’t let that discourage you though. For as many lovely and calm dinners out as we have had, know that there are probably just as many that didn’t go so smoothly.
*Keep It Simple
I always try to bring as little as possible into the restaurant. Nothing makes me feel more scattered than chasing after a toddler AND trying to gather a ton of bags and stuff. I take my Longchamp bag with the absolute minimum in it. My essentials are: A small pack of crayons (or a pen if I forget) and a small notepad (or a piece of paper from the hostess if I forget, as pictured). Always bring a sippy cup for milk OR (my favorite because you don’t have to clean it later) a chilled Organic Valley/Horizon single serving carton. I like that Organic Valley has whole milk ones, Horizon only offers 1% low fat. Also great for airplanes! I usually bring a travel bib (I have OXO brand, I like that they roll up for compact packing), but I often forget this and just tuck a napkin on her shirt or lap…voilà! The last thing I bring is a small pack of wipes (I use Babyganics travel pack, but really any wipes will do!) just in case things get messy and especially in restaurants with cloth napkins. Optional: a book or two, or a small favorite toy.
*Note: You may have noticed I didn’t list a phone/tablet. I try my very best not to use my phone or iPad as a means of distraction, but it does come in handy if things are really not going well and I am especially lenient when we are out with friends or when we are traveling. However, it is always my last option when all else fails.
I always try to look up the menu before we go and pick out at least a couple items I know will work. That way, once we get settled, we can order quickly and thus get the food as quickly as possible before the hunger meltdown. Also, toddlers aren’t known for their patience, believe it or not! I always tell the waiter to bring out the food as it is ready, that way we usually get something on the table to start to eat relatively quickly after ordering.
Go to the restaurant early! We try to go about 30 minutes before our normal mealtime, that way we are eating more or less at the same time as usual, avoiding cranky toddler who is now overly hungry. Bonus: more families will be dinning then as well.
Hashem and I kind of got into a nice groove so one of us is always eating and the other is cutting or assisting Nesrine with her food. Find what method works for you so everyone has a fully belly!
The other thing I do as soon as I get to a restaurant is find a couple of things (decor, lights, colors, etc.) that I know Nesrine will find interesting. For instance, when we were eating outside (in San Diego) there were a lot of birds flying around and landing on chairs. We kept talking about it and she had a blast trying to find them. Any time she started to get antsy I came back to looking for a bird. We even talked about how birds eat fish and since we were eating fish she thought that was really funny (and ate all her fish!). At an indoor restaurant, we usually find something to count (last weekend we counted the “big circles” aka chandeliers) or look for things that are all a certain color. You know what makes your tot excited, maybe a particular color or shape at the moment, and there is always something new and intriguing to look at in a restaurant, so utilize it!
That’s all for now. I hope this makes you motivated to take your toddler with you to enjoy the joys of eating out together! Now I leave it to YOU mamas, what are your tips and tricks? What did I forget? Leave your comments below!