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Old 10-09-2004, 09:47 PM
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Seven Tips for Eating Out with Kids

by Bridget Swinney

Ah... those good old days. Before you had kids, you could eat out just about any time you wanted. There were no worries about wait times and kid-friendly menu choices. Yes, it is more complicated to eat out when you've got a couple of kids in tow, but don't give up altogether. Bridget Swinney, author of "Healthy Food for Healthy Kids" (Meadowbrook Press) has advice for parents when it comes to dining out.

"Getting your children used to eating out at an early age gives you an opportunity to teach manners for eating out as well as a chance to introduce new and unusual foods," says Swinney. To make your dining experience the best it can be, follow these tips.

1. Make sure your child is not overly hungry. Children have a very low tolerance for waiting when they're hungry, which means waiting for a table and food will not be an enjoyable experience. Since eating out is often a spur-of-the-moment idea, usually little or no time is available to plan ahead. So grab an apple, some animal crackers or pretzels for your child to snack on before you head out the door.

2. If the outing is planned, make sure your child is well-rested. If the family has been running nonstop all day, you can be sure that your child won't be her usual angelic self if you choose to go out to eat that evening!

3. Choose a restaurant that has some diversion for children (or bring your own). Most restaurants have crayons and an outline to color, toys or a table with beads. If your child is not overly interested in this sort of entertainment, bring your own. Things that are useful include books, small cars, small stuffed animals and action figures for pretend play. Packets of sugar can be used to make a picture or stack. A handful of straws can be used for a game of pick-up sticks.

4. If your child is unlikely to make a meal from items on the menu, bring some of your own food. Restaurants usually don't mind and completely understand that children have special needs, especially babies and picky eaters.

5. Decide on your philosophy about eating out before you leave home. Many restaurants have kids' menus from which you can choose the usual burger, grilled cheese or hot dog. If you'd like to encourage your child to try new items, offer only a few new choices from the menu and leave out the fact that they could order a burger or hot dog.

6. If your child is in the "terrific twos" stage, this is probably the toughest time to go out. You will spend most of the evening chasing her and trying to get her to sit down. For this age group, stick to a kid-oriented place like Chuck-E-Cheese or get a babysitter!

7. If your child is a light eater and not too picky, order her a side dish or let her eat part of the food on your own plate. This will save money and aggravation.

"There's no reason that children should keep you from experiencing new restaurants," says Swinney.

printed from Magazine's Making Time for Family newsletter

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