How to eat out when your baby is starting on solid foods

When your baby is having their first experiences of non-milk food, it can be tempting to stay glued to your own kitchen. But there’s no reason why they can’t eat out. Just use these simple hacks…

Whether you’re going for a puree approach, baby-led weaning or something in between, starting your baby on solid food is an exciting time. It’s also a ridiculously messy and it can be slightly stressful. Which is why many parents tend to avoid eating out.

In reality though, there are plenty of times when you might need – or want – to be in a restaurant with your toddler. And with a few little tips, the whole experience can be a lot calmer than you would think. Maybe even fun. Plus, this way you don’t have to miss out on those amazing spring rolls at your local Thai place for too long either.

Here are some tips on how to do it from parents (and a few along the way from us)…

1. Choose the foods your baby eats carefully

That smartly dressed couple enjoying their sea bass in the corner? They may not particularly want lasagna in their hair, just FYI.

Carefully choosing the types of food you give them could help. Go for the low splatter and less flingable foods and maybe avoid the messy stuff like soup. You could bring a bib and wipes with you to the restaurant. That way you can quickly and easily clean up the food your baby has flung.

2. Take finger foods with you to keep your baby occupied

Sure, you might be able to make your child a buffet from your plate but:

  1. you might be concerned about salt content
  2. your food might take longer to arrive than your child wants to wait.

So plan ahead and pack lots of carrot and cucumber sticks, banana, pasta pieces, breadsticks or sandwiches. Basically, anything you know your baby likes and will nibble on (Child Development Institute, 2018; Made For Mums, 2018).   

3. Thermoses can be useful

‘Definitely pack your own food for the baby,’ says Amanda. ‘You can find some excellent vacuum flasks for food that’ll keep it warm. I used them a lot.’ Food flasks should be able to keep your baby’s food hot or cold for several hours. Check online and choose one that meets your needs.

4. Don’t forget a long-sleeved baby bib

…especially when you’re not near to your washing machine so can’t whip your baby’s clothes off for a wash straight away.  Oh, and don’t mess around with anything that just ties around the neck either; we’re talking serious sleeves and a food-catching pocket.

5. Don’t worry too much about nutrition

While you can normally monitor their salt intake when you’re cooking for them, restaurant meals are more unknown.

But if it’s a one-off and your child’s interested in trying some new, exciting foods, the benefits outweigh any downsides. Go with it and let them explore, then get back to the salt-free healthy stuff tomorrow (Counting to ten, 2016).  

6. Consider what you order more carefully

Sure, you fancy the searing hot curry but your child might be more likely to try salmon and noodles. It won’t be forever but for now, it may be worth bending to them so they can try some of what’s on your plate. The salmon and noodles sounds good anyway, right? If you’re eating your favourite dish, you can always ask for some vegetables as a side dish and request that they’re prepared without salt (Bethany King, 2014).

7. Avoid busy restaurant times

Your baby will be less likely to get stressed out if they’re not surrounded by chaos and noise while they eat. And to be honest, 8pm dinner times are probably out now with their bedtime anyway. It’s you and the retired crowd for the early bird special at 5pm instead…

8. Ask for some hot water if you’re doing puree

You can ask for hot water at restaurants to warm your baby food. Most cafes and restaurants are willing to give you a jug of water to warm up baby things like their packets of food.

The same goes for homecooked meals that you’ve brought along in your plastic pot (tip: generally avoid these being messy or full of tomato sauce…).

Just be careful if the water is boiling – hot water and babies can be a dangerous combo.

9. Bring your own baby equipment

You could take your own travel high chair. This should save you getting caught out because your favourite café doesn’t have them or has run out.

10. Enjoy it

Often, this is a lovely stage when babies are super-interested in new foods and what’s on offer. So make the most of it.

Let your baby try new things off your plates and stuff you don’t usually make at home, as well as different flavours and foreign foods. Oh, and take a million pictures for their grandparents while they do it. There’s no cute baby picture like the one with an ‘I’ve got a face full of sauce’ pose.

This page was last reviewed in March 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

You might find attending one of NCT's Introducing Solids Foods workshops helpful as they cover topics like when to start your baby on their first foods. They also cover topics like purees, baby-led weaning and what foods to avoid. These courses are run by NCT qualified practitioners and you will also get to meet other local parents with babies of a similar age to yours.

Some parents find attending a Baby First aid course helpful.

Child Development Institute. (2018) How to keep your toddler busy and entertained in a restaurant. Available from: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/toddler-preschooler-development-parenting/toddler-restaurant/#.W_vcwTHLfIU [27th November 2018]

Mumsnet. (2018) What equipment do I need for weaning? Available from: https://www.mumsnet.com/babies/weaning/essential-baby-weaning-equipment [27th November 2018]

Counting to Ten. (2016) Top tips for meals out when you are baby led weaning.. Available from: https://www.countingtoten.co.uk/2016/08/top-tips-for-meals-out-when-you-are.html [27th November 2018]

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