Gone are the days of leisurely meals, catching up with your spouse and slowly enjoying several courses and several beverages. Now, that you’re a parent, meal times more closely resemble a food-eating contest than an enjoyable, relaxing, evening. And you may have noticed the funny phenomenon in which your baby is programmed to be perfectly content and angelic until it’s time for you to eat — then, all behavior bets are off. Especially when dining out. But don’t consider yourself on a meals-at-home-only plan until your kids grow up. You can take your baby out for her first restaurant meal (mostly) stress free with these tricks.

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Photo: Lisa Pappalardo via Flickr

Timing is Everything

Hit restaurants when the wait time is relatively short, when Baby is your dinner guest. This may mean making a reservation or going at non-peak times. You could end up eating at 4:30 p.m. with all the senior citizens, or find yourself at 9 p.m. closing down the place on a Wednesday night. Either way, you’ll be more likely to enjoy your meal when you don’t have to wait long for your food to arrive and while there are fewer people eyeing your every move.

Don’t feel like you have to stick to dinner. If you’re dining out for the first time with your newly mobile tot, for example, you might want to start with a breakfast, lunch or brunch, when meals are quicker, restaurants are quieter and the witching hour is still hours away.

Consider your baby’s schedule. You don’t want your little one too tired or too hungry when you get to the restaurant, or it’s going to be too hard to keep your little one happy and occupied for the duration of your meal. If you’ve got a newborn, your best bet is to plan to dine out while he’s sleeping happily in the car seat in the booth with you.

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Photo: Dean Wissing via Flickr

Be Strategic

Choose your restaurant wisely. While you don’t need to limit yourself to diners and ultra-kid friendly joints, you probably won’t get away with enjoying a leisurely 5-star meal with your baby in tow. So, pick a restaurant that you know provides high chairs, tolerates a little extra noise and can deliver a meal to your table fairly quickly. Sometimes sitting outside is easier as you’ll have more space to keep Baby’s stroller tableside and al fresco can be forgiving on baby screams, both of delight and despair.

Scope out the restaurant for the best table. If you have a baby in a car seat, ask for a booth so you can set the seat in the booth and have easy access if she gets fussy. If you have a toddler who likes to roam, ask for a corner table so your little one can’t readily escape. Some restaurants have private rooms or areas where there aren’t many people, these are great spots to enjoy a stress-free meal-out with your family. Don’t be afraid to ask for special accommodations.

Become a regular. If you have a favorite local joint, visit often and become friendly with the waitstaff and owners. (If you haven’t given birth yet, put this on your pre-baby to do list!) Then when you arrive with your little one in tow, they’ll be more likely to whisk you right to a baby-friendly table and present your baby with a pack of crackers to eat and crayons to color with.

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Photo credit: :Salihan via Flickr 

Plan Ahead

Be prepared for hungry babies. For breast or bottle fed babies, bring an extra bottle or nursing cover just in case your little one starts to fuss while you’re dining. If your baby is enthralled with self-feeding, then puffs and teething biscuits are your new BFF. Make sure to have a stash of them ready to go when you get to the restaurant; these are a great diversion.

Make your diaper bag a treasure trove of fun. For those with toddlers, hit the dollar bin at Target and stock up on a couple things your babe has never seen before. Flashlight key chains, matchbox cars, a sheet of stickers and small books can do wonders for passing time.

Get your game on. Create a list of easy games you can play at the restaurant (you could keep this list on your phone, or a card that you keep in your diaper bag). Need some inspiration? Read our list of favorite games to keep babies busy anywhere. Thinking of games on the fly when your baby is having a meltdown in the restaurant can be stressful, so having a bunch ready to go is a no-brainer!

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Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Bring Backup

The more the merrier. Going out with your significant other is nice but when it comes to dining out with baby, sometimes it takes a village. If you have friends or family who come along, it just means extra hands on deck when your precious bundle gets squirmy. It’s a lot more enjoyable to dine out when you know there are several people on hand just itching to entertain your little one while you finish your meal.

Do you dine out with baby? If so, what are some of your tips and tricks that you’ve found especially helpful?

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–Sarah Blight