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Hunger Games: 10 Steps to Dining Out with Young Kids

Eating out with young kids takes a lot of practice and even more patience. Think of it as a sport; your family is in dining out training and you are the coach. Like any good coach, you need to keep the team goal in mind. You are aiming to raise children that you will enjoy dining out with in the future, so think of the restaurant meals in the toddler and baby years as practice. Here are the 10 steps to get you to game time.

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  • image-2 1 of 11
    image-2
  • Location, Location, Location 2 of 11
    Location, Location, Location
    Dining in a restaurant without high chairs is the equivalent of crashing a party. The not-so-subtle sign is right there: "Young Families Not Welcome." Instead, choose a noisy, kid-friendly restaurant.
  • Arrive Prepared 3 of 11
    Arrive Prepared
    Bring crayons and stickers but do not introduce all of your tricks at once. I save a secret stash of office supply sticker sheets that provide great restaurant entertainment. When we have tired of stickers, we move on to crayons.
  • Get a Head Start 4 of 11
    Get a Head Start
    Ask the host to send the waiter over right away so that you can order kids' drinks and an appetizer or two for the table as soon as you are seated.
  • Communicate with Your Waiter 5 of 11
    Communicate with Your Waiter
    Tell your waiter that you will be on the fast track. There is nothing worse than asking where your food is and hearing "I just put in your main dishes so you would have time to enjoy your appetizers." The waiter doesn't know that you are playing long ball you are here to enjoy a meal in your future but probably not this one.
  • Don’t Limit Yourself to the Kids Menu 6 of 11
    Don't Limit Yourself to the Kids Menu
    With rare exceptions, kids menus are often limited to chicken fingers and pasta. Open up your choices by considering the main menu appetizers where portions and prices are similar to the kids' menu but will include healthy options.
  • Order with Your Kids 7 of 11
    Order with Your Kids
    I often see parents putting in the kids' order and ordering for themselves later. The problem with this method is that kids eat fast and once they are done, they will not want to stick around for your meal.
  • Have Reasonable Expectations 8 of 11
    Have Reasonable Expectations
    Your kids will not suddenly behave like grownups simply because they are in a restaurant. Manners take practice so go easy on your children and realize that the more restaurant experience they get, the better they will be at it. This is a game of long ball.
  • Have Older Kids Do the Talking 9 of 11
    Have Older Kids Do the Talking
    Once your child hits age six, encourage her to order her own meal. If she isn't ready, don't pressure her but it is great practice for advocating for herself and learning to speak to new grownups.
  • Be the Positive Coach 10 of 11
    Be the Positive Coach
    No matter how grumpy neighboring diners are about your children's noise level or mess, don't take it out on your kids. You want to raise kids that enjoy dining out so keep it light and fun.
  • Check Please! 11 of 11
    Check Please!
    Ask for the check as soon as the your last dishes arrive. This insures you will be ready for a quick escape in the event of post dinner meltdowns. Because even when things are going smoothly, you want to stay a step ahead of the game.
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