On Saturday, I knew we'd be eating lunch out, so I brought along Ben's sippy cup, a bib, and a bag of dreary-ohs and fruit bits. It's not that I fear for his nutrition if he goes a meal without oaty Os and freeze-dried fruit; it's that the time between sitting down and getting served is easier on everybody if Ben has dozens of little foodlets to pick up and put into his mouth.
I used to bring all his food: overcooked organic veggies and strips of whole-wheat bread, shredded cheese, a banana. And I don't look back on those meals out and think I was a chump to do it -- he was new to solids, and I think it was appropriate to introduce each food carefully, prepare it minimally. But now he's a sturdy little nearly-eleven-month-old Big Fan of Food, and I'm not going to let a little breading scare me.
So we order off the kids' menu now. Chicken fingers and steamed broccoli. I cut it all up into wee pieces and set a few pieces at a time in front of him. The server invariably asks if we want a plate, and I'm sure the sight of a baby eating right off the table is unsettling, but he can handle the germs, and he'd just knock a plate onto the floor.
We didn't plan to eat out again today, but it worked out that way. I didn't have a bib or the snacks, but I did have his sippy cup, and I made a mental note to keep one in my purse from now on -- it's really the only brought-from-home lunch item that we'd miss. He ate his deep-fried, mostly-breading, far-too-salty chicken and steamed-but-drenched-in-saturated-fats-and-salt broccoli, and would I want him to eat like that all the time? No way. But once in a while, no big deal. And it's great to be able to eat lunch at a restaurant on the spur of the moment.
These are not fancy or sophisticated places, of course. Yesterday was Pizzeria Uno at the mall, and today was the Ruby Tuesday across from the Lowe's. His restaurant experiences include Cracker Barrel, Panera, Five Guys (where there isn't, sadly, anything I'm willing to give him -- yet), and a cafe in Albany called Peaches. I want him to be the kind of kid who's used to eating out, who can transition easily to nicer places -- and dinner -- once he's past the chucking-stuff-on-the-floor phase, and it seems to me that the way to get there is through a lot of "family" restaurants with fried food and patience.
We tip generously, at least 30%, to make up for the mess.