My Number-One Tool When Dining Out with Toddlers

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Maa Hoo/Stocksy)

My little boy isn’t what you might call a dainty eater. He smears spaghetti sauce in his hair. He grabs hunks of sausage and mashes them on his face until his eyebrows are painted with grease and flecks of fennel. He’s never met a spoon he likes as well as his fingers, and he’s never met a fork at all — something about the way he wields a breadstick makes me sure he would see the fork as an ideal weapon.

To make matters worse, I’m not exactly chill about him eating off tables in public restaurants. He can’t be trusted with a plate (unless it’s at a Greek restaurant where throwing plates is part of the action), he rips up those silicone placemats that suction to the table, and he thinks nothing of licking the table to get up that last pile of mashed potatoes.

No matter how many times I clean or sanitize the tabletop, I never really feel like it’s the same as eating off his little high chair tray at home. For a while I just went through two packs of sanitizing wipes every time we ate at a restaurant, hoping I would feel better about having him eat directly off the public table. Then, I found these — the greatest thing about eating out with kids since crayons and paper menus.

(Image credit: Amazon)

These Neat Solutions Neat-Ware Table Toppers have saved my sanity. The simple pieces of plastic have four super sticky sides that, once you remove the backing, adhere firmly to any table I’ve tried. They come in a compact zip-top plastic bag and my son actually loves pointing out the numbers and animals on his favorite design. They are sanitary, come in a few different designs, and fit easily in a diaper bag. They go on the table in a moment and when you are done, you just take them off the table and fold up the spit-out carrots or discarded half-chewed hamburger bun along with the table topper and toss the whole package.

They aren’t perfect — they are more wasteful than reusable placemats, the adhesive that covers the sticky edges has the strongest static on the planet, and they aren’t inexpensive. However, for a caregiver with a messy kid with Herculean strength who can’t be trusted with plates and who doesn’t want to leave a terrible mess for waitstaff, it’s kind of a game-changer.

Buy Now: Neat-Ware Table Topper, 60 for $10