Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to vacation with a baby, part 2: eating out

Part 1 of "How to vacation with a baby" was staying in a hotel.  Part 2 is how to survive meals in restaurants: breastfeeding, entertainment, accommodations, diapers, and the two all-around best kinds of restaurants to bring a baby.  Onwards!

Make sure you are wearing a very easy top to breastfeed in; it can be hard enough to nurse at a table in a crowded restaurant, and complicated clothes make this even harder.  I favor a pull-down neckline (or nursing tank) with some kind of drapey cardigan over top.  The advantage to this set-up is that as long as your baby hasn't reached the pop-off-and-look-around stage, you can nurse pretty discreetly without using a cover.  Sadly, we are definitely at the popping-off stage, which also seems to coincide with the excuse-me-Mama-but-there's-no-way-in hell-I'm-nursing-with-that-cloth-over-my-head stage.  Sigh.  I do the best I can.

Timing.  I feel like it took me far too long to learn this lesson, but now I know it.  If you possibly can, nurse as soon as possible after arriving at the restaurant.  At the newborn stage, this will probably buy you a baby nap while you enjoy your meal.  Later, it will simply buy you a happy baby who won't be fussing to be fed while you eat.  Long before my daughter actually began to reach for my food, she started to want to nurse when she saw me eating, so I would inevitably have just a couple bites of my entree before I had to reach for the nursing cover.

Entertainment/Dining for babies.
Vulli Sophie the Giraffe Teether
I keep a few go-to toys in my diaper bag at all times now.  The current favorites are Sophie (Sophie la giraffe, bien sûr), a wooden rattle, and a cloth book.  But really, the best entertainment has turned out to be food.

BABYBJÖRN Soft Bib 2 Pack - Red/Blue
Plastic bibs are handy
Since we've been giving our daughter "whole" foods to eat for over a month now, there's almost always something in our meal that we can give her to chew on.  Raiding the bread basket is always a hit.  Pieces of chicken can keep her occupied for upwards of 15 minutes.  If something is especially salty or saucy, I (sorry, this is kinda gross) lick the sauce off myself and then give it to her.

To keep things somewhat less messy at the table, I've started carrying a sippy cup to give her water in, and a hard plastic bib that I can quickly rinse off in the restaurant bathroom.  

Finally, passing the baby around to your dining companions can be a good way to keep her entertained--although yes, she will be returned to you at the first sign of fussiness!

I like to let restaurants know that we'll be bringing a baby when we make a reservation.  We're still at the stage where we pull the stroller up to the table, so it's helpful to have a table with a little extra space.

(5 months) Uncle D's facial hair keeps
 his niece entertained in a restaurant
We're lucky that our daughter is pretty easy-going, so she's not usually much of an imposition on our fellow diners.  If she starts to fuss or cry more than a little, I try to whisk her away from the table and take her for a walk outside until she calms down.  We ate at a really wonderful French bistro in Napa on Saturday night (Bouchon--try the osso bucco!), and there was a very modish couple next to us who looked a little peeved to be seated next to a baby--but honestly, there wasn't much they could complain about, as she was on her best behavior all night.

If the situation ever gets really dire, and I feel like I am ruining someone's date night, my secret killer plan is to ask the server to bring the offended party a couple glasses of champagne on us, as an apology.  If that seems pricey, just think--it's cheaper than hiring a babysitter!  (Well, probably.  Depends on the champagne.  And the sitter).

Diapers, diapers, diapers
I find it pretty surprising how few restaurants have changing tables in their restrooms.  I swear that at lunchtime, moms & babies make up half the clientele at Cafe Barrone in Menlo Park, and yet, no changing table.  (According to the management, this is because the building owners won't put one in...).  And DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED about how few places have changing tables in the MEN'S bathrooms.  What do gay male couples with children do?!

Anyway, I carry a changing pad in my diaper bag, and that works okay on the floor with a cloth diaper folded under baby's head for extra padding.  Or you can use the stroller in a pinch.

The funniest thing about taking my daughter to the bathroom at restaurants has been the noises that she makes on the toilet.  Particularly when she was younger, she used to grunt and groan quite a bit as she, you know.  People in the stalls next to us have occasionally started to giggle at the noises--and they'd be quite shocked when we emerged and they learned that all that ruckus was coming from an infant!

Choice of cuisine
Nowadays, we can go to pretty much any restaurant, although it helps if it's not too hushed--it's nice if any happy baby roars or squeals just sort of fade into the background noise.  But early on, there were definitely certain restaurants that worked better than others, for two reasons:  I often had to eat one-handed, and my meal was often interrupted.

Salads, large cuts of meat, sandwiches, and anything drippy are just not a good idea to eat one-handed.  You're liable to spill on the baby and/or yourself.  Likewise, traditional Western food with a main course can be difficult if your meal is interrupted by fussiness, nursing requirements, etc.  Two all-star cuisines to eat with an infant were tapas and dim sum.  Easy to eat one-handed?  Check.  Multiple mini-courses that can stop and start at your request?  Check.  Often boisterous atmospheres that camouflage baby noises?  Check.  Yes.  Tapas and dim sum:  the clear baby-friendly winners.

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