Going out to eat and want to keep up your healthy game plan, but not sure what to order for baby? I get it, it feels like every time we go out to eat, it’s a new adventure – How much of a mess will this make? Is it healthy? Can they eat this? Will they? Read on for 10 go-to healthy menu items that most restaurants serve for babies as young as 6 months, and what to embrace and avoid for an optimal restaurant experience.

Go Prepared! What to Bring

First – it helps to come prepared if you have time. In the diaper bag, we pack a book, maybe a toy car, and for under 1, maybe an ezpz plate or bowl, your scoop bib, and/or these sticky place mats for the table. At about 1 year old Russell started demolishing the sticky place mats and eating a little more neatly, so I’d recommend those mostly for younger babies. We usually had to borrow their broom and dust pan afterwards anyway, but every little bit helps.

What to Order

Then, when selecting menu items I try to balance the fact that we can’t be 100% local, fresh and clean all the time, but we can certainly choose some items that are less processed, and more whole foods. So in remembering that this should be a fun time, not a stressful time, here are 10 items we’ve had success with ordering especially for babies 6-18 months.

  1. Sliced avocado – This is great at sushi and Mexican restaurants, they always have them!
  2. Veggie Plate – a mixture of veggie sides that are steamed or boiled would be perfect. Avoiding fried or overly processed veggies like tater tots can cut down on a lot of unhealthy additives that babies (and adults!) don’t really need.
  3. Hamburger, (hold the bun) – We didn’t do much bread until Russell was about a year old. My thinking was that 6-12 months is mainly about learning to eat and supplementing breastmilk or formula, and hamburger buns have extremely little to no nutritional value. Most of the food we introduced that early was to get him open and curious about a LOT of different colors textures and flavors so when he turned picky he’d have a wide range of foods to pick from. All that is to say – white breads and buns were not needed during this stage.
  4. Buffalo Chicken Wings – A personal fave. Ask them to hold the sauce, or put it on the side. I usually just wipe it off or rinse off one or two wings for baby. Save two drumsticks for baby while the rest of the fam gets a yummy app.
  1. Meat & Veggie Quesadilla – Babies love a carb. By throwing in the veggies and protein, this is a really yummy, well-rounded meal that also keeps for later if they don’t gobble it all down this time. Ask for no cheese if you’re dairy free, it will still be a well rounded option.
  2. Sweet Potato Fries – while of course we don’t LOVE fried food in tiny baby stomachs, I feel like for sweet potato fries that don’t come with cinnamon sugar all over them, this is a fun sometimes food for when we eat out. You may even luck out and find some oven baked fries.
sliced orange fruit on white table
  1. Grilled Salmon – We’re kind of obsessed over here. Have you checked out Russell’s Baked Salmon recipe?
  2. Steamed Broccoli – Is broccoli on your rotation at home? If so, most restaurants have broccoli and baby will be excited to see a familiar food.
  1. Tacos – deconstruct them for what they are! A tortilla, some meat, and perhaps some tomato or avocado. Perfect for baby and they’ll love it even more if you’re eating one too! Hello Tiny Taco Tuesday.
  2. Some of your salad’s toppings – Especially for younger babies – sharing a meal is so easy when you yourself eat healthy. Pulling off some cherry tomatoes, peeled cucumber (for the older crowd), shredded cheese, chicken or salmon from on top of your salad and putting it right on baby’s plate is so easy! Make sure you cut it up to the perfect size for their age group, consulting your Solid Starts App.

…and more!

This is not a full list – really most things can be adapted for baby. The whole idea of baby-led weaning is that they learn how and get used to eating real food. I remember going to a fancy farm to table restaurant when he was 8 months old and Russell ate black lentils, caramelized onion, hog jowl and a duck leg. They will literally try anything at that curious stage, and it is SO much to their benefit if we let them do it!

And finally, if none of these are an option or it doesn’t look feasible, Bring your own food for baby! Check out my ideas for packing snack cups, or make a yogurt pouch for 0 mess. People are so understanding of parties that have tiny babies in tow. You can get away with a lot – making a mess, bringing your own snacks, or making a lot of noise, because they are SO adorable. So remember it is OKAY and staying chill will really help the family enjoy the experience, which is the goal!

A Few Things to Avoid When Eating Out with Baby

Sometimes when selecting healthful menu items, it’s just as helpful to know what to avoid in restaurants so you can make the best choice for your family and have a wonderful experience.

You May Want to Avoid:

  1. Only ordering “Kids Meals” – I still don’t really understand what people mean when they say kid food. In my mind we are teaching children how to eat so they can grow into healthy older children and then into healthy adults. So if we start with “Kids’ Meals”, when does this transition to healthy, real food happen? These meals are often completely brown and not the healthiest option on the menu. They might be a few bucks cheaper (in the short term!) but truthfully ordering real food off the menu can be much more nutritionally dense. Can restaurants help us out by simply having smaller portions of adult food available for children? I love this idea!
  2. Sugar Sweetened Beverages. For baby, they are simply not needed. Avoiding them for as long as possible will allow babies to develop a taste for water and milk, essential drinks for this age group.
  3. Only ordering things YOU like. Restaurants can be a place where baby gets to eat food that isn’t normally prepared in the home – new flavors, new dishes, new textures – how exciting! Let baby explore with menu items, and not necessarily only things her parents like. We want baby to have access to all the healthy foods and make her own decisions about food preferences. If they get exposed to enough healthy food, refusing a few healthy items down the road won’t be the end of the world. It’s natural to have preferences, let’s just not impose our own preferences on someone else.

For example, I really don’t like raw red onion. I think I watched too many episodes of Chopped with Scott Conant. So I took them off my salad, and I wasn’t going to offer them to Russell, because if I don’t like them, he won’t like them right? Not necessarily! We are different people. So I offered it to him (no pressure) and he literally ate a whole ring of red onion. Another spicy weird flavor under his belt that won’t be weird to him later on into adulthood.

  1. Hot Dogs & Lunch Meatthese foods are literally carcinogens. Anything I couldn’t eat while pregnant made me reconsider whether my family needed them afterwards too. When I’m tempted to just go the easy route and give baby a hot dog, I think – would we casually give babies a cigarette, another known carcinogen? No, no we would not. Dramatic I know! But thinking in extremes helps me prioritize healthy habits.
  2. Getting There Super Hungry – A hungry baby waiting on food is a nightmare. I’ve done this! He ends up eating 7 dinner rolls and no real food (or was this me?), so planning ahead for timing, and ordering for baby first – right when you get there so his comes out ASAP – can be crucial.
  3. Screen Time – Recommended Screen Time for children under 2 is typically 0 minutes per day, it is so detrimental to developing brains and mental faculties. The one exception is face timing family, which we are probably not doing at a restaurant. Meals can be such rich opportunities to nourish our bodies and relationships – a moment to connect with our family and friends. Screens can remove this connection. Instead, play some peekaboo, walk around the restaurant, bring a book in the diaper bag, or sing a funny little song together. Order baby something right when you get there, and the wait will be over before you know it!
  4. Fast Food – Typically this type of eatery does not have wholesome choices, or options for clean eating. i.e. a hamburger from your local restaurant is probably made of more actual meat than fast food burgers.

I will say, when we’re on the road, we love a good quick Chick-fil-A stop. We get grilled chicken nuggets and fresh fruit cups. If we want to keep moving I put both the nuggets and the fruit in snack cups and get back on the road!

Dining out with baby can be a fun experience to try new foods and socialize with family and friends. Try these tips when out to eat, and let me know how it goes! What do you order at restaurants for baby?

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