Okay, so, let’s be honest… Going out anywhere with your baby or toddler is all about survival. My schedule changes at the drop of a hat, and it wouldn’t be unusual for me to get a call from my family saying, “Hey, meet us for lunch!” while I’m driving, somewhere between home and the restaurant. My mommy-survival instincts have to kick into gear.
I rarely have my diaper bag with me, so I’ve essentially turned my car into a mobile baby-care station, and I’ve created an almost no-fail system for being on the road and eating out at restaurants with your baby or toddler.
Mobile Baby-Care Station
Before you even consider taking your baby or toddler out of the house, I recommend that you turn your car into a mobile baby-care station, keeping certain items in your vehicle at all times. You will need:
- Baby-Friendly Music (Once Bitten, Twice Shy, by Great White counts. My daughter loved it.)
- A Movie or TV Show via your Phone or iPad (I’m not saying you have to force your 2-month-old to watch Finding Nemo. I’m just saying… consider it. As an option. When all else fails.)
- Wipes (though during the winter, some brands will freeze)
- Paper Towels
- Hand Sanitizer
- Empty Sippy Cup (to be filled with water or juice that you may have to buy at a gas station)
- Empty Grocery Bag (for garbage/dirty diapers)
- Bottle of Water
- Receiving Blankets
- Think of songs you can sing, stories/poems you can recite, or create some toddler-appropriate road-trip games, like simplified versions of “I Spy.”
Paper Towels are a mom’s dream. You can wet them down with water (or even breast milk/formula in an emergency) to clean your child. Add some sanitizer, and you can sanitize any surface of your car that gets poop or puke on it. Lay down paper towels on the seat for a make-shift diaper-changing mat, etc.! Last week, at the park, my daughter filled the baby swing with poop, but you’ll be happy to know (especially if you go to the same park we do) that I scrubbed it down diligently with my homemade sanitizing wipe!
For long trips with your baby/toddler, be prepared to stop frequently. Try not to be stressed about your estimated time of arrival, because there is no estimated time of arrival once you have children. You will get there… someday. Most likely, it’ll be the same day you started your trip, but be prepared for the worst. My mom and I once rocked my daughter to sleep outside of an old, abandoned diner, on a Native-American reservation, under the stars, while my mom softly sang My Bonnie.
The beauty of it is that, your life becomes less about living by a clock and more about living by individual moments. Savor these moments. This is living!
The Restaurant (Did you just hear the Jaws theme-song? Me too. Creepy.)
Going out to eat with a toddler or baby is all about finding your comfort zone and feeling confident about taking care of your child in a public place — even if they cry or throw a tantrum. So, here are a few tips that have helped us relax and enjoy the experience of eating out with our two-year-old daughter!
- Try to pick a family-friendly restaurant where you know the service is fast and the staff is friendly (at least for your first few eating-out experiences).
- Plan ahead. Check out the restaurant’s menu online, so you know what you’d like to order before you go.
- If you’re out alone with your child, you can even order your food when the waitress comes to take your drink order eliminating some wait time when your child may get restless.
- This may be a good time to let your child have a food that they love but don’t get to have very often — like macaroni and cheese, hotdogs, or even a special dessert.
- While waiting for your food, it helps to make this time about your baby or toddler, to include them in the conversation. Bring toys to play with, and enjoy some quality time playing or drawing. My daughter loves telling stories and having me draw them — just silly, little stick-figures. She also loves pretending to make her own food out of play-doh. I keep a small container of it in my purse.
- Never underestimate the power of toddler-friendly phone apps. We don’t encourage a lot of phone use at this age, but this is the perfect time to allow it.
- When the food arrives, eat while your child eats, and if they get restless before you’re done, try breaking up the time by taking them to the restroom to wash hands or put on makeup. My in-laws taught me this trick, and it works beautifully.
- Sometimes just a break from the table helps you through the rest of the meal.
- If you feel your child is getting too restless, you can ask the waitress to bring your check and a take-out container as soon as the food arrives. You can even order a dessert or coffee to go. This always helps me to feel less stressed, because I know that I can leave at any time. I also know that I’m going to get some quiet, sit-down time in the car on the way home to sip my coffee. Looking forward to that helps!
- Don’t worry about a diaper change at the restaurant. A lot of older Vermont diners don’t have changing tables. Sometimes you may have to lay down your sweatshirt or paper towels on a bathroom counter for a quick diaper change. And remember that you always have your Mobile Baby-Care Station to fall back on! Sometimes a quick trip out to the car for a diaper change and some fresh air can do you both good!
- And, last but not least, the thing that has made it easiest for us to go out to eat is: to do it often! Take your child out to Subway, Starbucks, a local cafe, or even a gas station that has tables, that’s close to home, where you can pay for your food ahead of time and leave whenever you want — get used to going out to eat where it’s easy and okay for your child to scream or throw a tantrum, but set the same expectations as a sit-down restaurant. Once that gets easier, you’ll feel more confident about taking your child to the bigger and fancier restaurants! (Like Applebees! Haha!)
I hope you have many happy outings and dining-moments with your baby/toddler! And please share any of your own tips below for being out-and-about with your little one!