For anyone who has already started baby-led weaning (BLW), you know that it is a messy affair. But don't let the mess stop you from practicing baby led weaning while eating out at restaurants. These tips can help you enjoy meals away from home with your new little foodie. If you are unfamiliar with the baby-led weaning approach to starting solids, hop on over to What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning at Restaurants
When you arrive at the restaurant, you may be tempted to place Baby straight into the high chair or booster seat. I recommend limiting the time Baby spends strapped into the seat. I usually let my little one sit on my lap while we look at the menu together and order. Then I take him to the bathroom and for a little walk around the restaurant. If the food still hasn't arrived, a toy or game can serve as a distraction. Once the food arrives, it's a good time to place Baby in their seat. But they still need to wait for you to cut their food into appropriate sizes and allow it to cool to room temperature.
I like to sneak a test bite to make sure the food is not too spicy or stove hot before offering it to my son. Other than avoiding salt, processed sugar, and honey, it is fine to offer seasoned and spicy food, as long as it's not too spicy. Once the food has cooled, it can be placed on the tray or in a bowl. If you use a bowl, be prepared that Baby may try to hurl it across the room.
While your baby is busy exploring tastes and textures, enjoy your meal!
Baby Led Weaning Gear for Eating Out
Thankfully, there are some useful gadgets on the market that can help take the stress out of mealtimes away from home.
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First of all, make sure that your baby will have somewhere to sit. If you will be dining at a restaurant that does not provide high chairs, bring along a compact booster seat, or at least a placemat. It is much easier if your baby has a separate place to sit while exploring the meal.
We have been traveling in SE Asia and eating out at least once a day with our baby. I thought it would be fine to just have him sit on my lap during meals, but that got old fast. I grew tired of having rice stuck all over my clothing, sauce on my arms, and water spilled on my lap.
We broke down and paid double the price we would have paid back home for the Chicco Pocket Snack Booster Seat. We wish we would have gotten the Pocket Snack sooner. My husband says it would have been worth any price. The Chicco Pocket Snack folds into a compact carrying size; fits on any chair with both a seat and a back; and fits petite babies up to toddlers. Our son is happy to sit in his own chair and eats more than he did while sitting on my lap. If there isn't a chair available to place the booster seat on, the Pocket Snack also has short legs that unfold, making it a stand-alone chair.
It is not always practical to carry along a booster seat, so for those times you can at least bring along a placemat. While your baby is perched on your lap, the placemat provides a clean eating surface.
If you will be eating outside at a park or beach, a picnic blanket is the perfect seating arrangement for BLW!
Toss the booster seat, placemat, or picnic blanket into a large tote bag and you are almost ready to go.
Roll up Bib
A roll up bib or one that can be easily folded, is perfect for taking along to a restaurant. Make sure it has a catch pocket, to collect any dropped food.
When starting BLW, it is easiest for Baby to pick up French-fry-shaped steamed vegetables, soft fruits, or strips of meat. Later, as your baby perfects the pincer grasp, he will be able to pick up smaller, pea sized, pieces of food. A pair of food scissors make it easy to quickly cut food into appropriate shapes and sizes for your little eater.
A small utensil set is also handy. When we first started baby led weaning, we would give our son a spoon to play with as his dessert once he was done eating. As he got older and started showing interest in using utensils, I would give him his fork to stab at his food, until he would throw it on the floor and go back to using his hands.
Pack the bib, food scissors and utensils in a wet/dry clutch and add it to your tote bag.
Bowl with Lid
A small bowl with a lid is convenient for setting pieces of food in to allow them to cool, before offering them to Baby. You can also bring along a healthy snack in a stainless steel snack container, in case the restaurant food is too salty to share with Baby. Most chain restaurants in the USA will provide nutrition information upon request, so you can check the salt content before ordering.
It's also helpful to bring your baby's favorite travel cup. We like to use a vacuum insulated stainless steel travel cup with a silicone straw.
Wash Cloth and Wipes
Once the meal is over, it will be time to clean... Baby's face, hands, bib, the table, the floor... I like to bring along a wash cloth for cleaning my baby's face and hands. Usually as soon as he is done exploring his food, I whisk him off to the bathroom to wash his face and hands and use the cloth wipe to dry.
It's also convenient to bring along disposable WaterWipes. For the table, chairs, and bits on the floor, I use napkins provided by the restaurant. I don't worry about cleaning every last smear off the table or crumb off the floor, but I also don't want to leave a slipping hazard like a slice of tomato on the floor..