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Parent's Corner

Table for Three: Eating Out With Your Baby

By: Pamela Brill

Who's hungry? If you're looking forward to taking your baby out to a restaurant, you're in good company. (And now that spring has sprung, those outdoor cafés look particularly inviting.)

But before you decide to head out and break bread together, it helps to know how to handle yourself (and your child) when dining away from home.

Chew on This

Dining out with a little one can be a breeze, especially with an infant. "When your baby's a newborn, going out to eat is surprisingly painless," says Amber and Andy Ankowski, authors of Think Like a Baby: 33 Simple Research Experiments You Can Do at Home to Better Understand Your Baby's Developing Mind (www.doctoranddad.com). That's because at this point, your little one still sleeps a lot." The husband-and-wife team recommends bringing your car seat and setting it up alongside you as you dine. "Make sure to feed your baby shortly before you plan to be at the restaurant," they advise. "Once your baby's belly is full, it will be a whole lot easier to fill yours."

For those wide-eyed babies who are more curious than sleepy, be sure to pack some supplies. Christine Knight, who blogs about her adventures of traveling and eating out with her child (www.christineknight.me), suggests "a toy they haven't seen before, or a spoon will work just as well, and a piece of bread to gnaw on."

Nursing Know-How

When Knight was eating out and needed to breastfeed her baby, she brought along a nursing cover and nursed her daughter at the table. "I had my baby in New York City, and there was often nowhere else to go to feed her," she recalls. "I did try and time the feedings around our dining out after she was a few months old and would nurse her before and after our outings."

Whether or not you breastfeed at the table or in private is ultimately a personal choice. "If covering up or going someplace private helps you and your baby feel more at ease, then we say go for it," say the Ankowskis. "But don't be surprised if your own personal comfort level with breastfeeding in public changes over time."

Don't Cry Over Spilt Milk

Even if your baby arrives at a restaurant on a full stomach and with plenty of toys and snacks to keep her occupied, it doesn't rule out the possibility of fussiness. If your baby becomes visibly (and audibly) upset at the table, simply excuse yourself for a few minutes and step outside. "My husband and I used to take turns…and walking around the street until our baby calmed down," says Knight. "With an older baby, putting them on your lap and distracting them helps."

And as your baby grows and turns into a toddler, eating out may become more challenging, but it doesn't mean you have to stay home, either. Knight suggests packing a few toys they haven't played with in a while and some crayons, while the Ankowskis suggest bringing along some foods you know your child will eat, like yogurt or a bagel.

Ensuring a smooth dining experience means practicing good behavior at home. "If your child runs around yelling, screaming and climbing on the furniture during your normal family dinnertime, there's a good chance he'll do the exact same thing when you go out," says the Ankowskis. By setting clear expectations about how to behave at mealtime, you'll better be able to enforce rules outside of the home, too.