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The Dos and Don’ts Of Dining Out with Kids

Is your family restaurant ready? Here's a checklist of tips to ensure your kids are prepared to eat out in public

Dining out with your kids doesn't have to be a disaster (for you or the other diners!). If you follow a few simple rules, you can avoid complete mealtime meltdown. Eager to dine out as a family more often? Keep these survival guidelines in mind. Better yet, add a few of your own rules to personalize the list for your crew!

Do ...

  • Call ahead. We're not talking reservations here. Before you head out to the restaurant, call to make sure that it's kid-friendly. While you might get a sense by looking at each restaurant's website, it's always good to ask.
  • Try a new restaurant. There are so many different tastes in Michigan – from Middle Eastern shawarmas to Japanese sushi. Let your kids sample new foods firsthand. Starting can help set them on the path of being open-minded eaters.
  • Bring playthings. Sure, restaurants may have coloring pages and crayons. But if you already know that your child is a marker fan or that a couple of Matchbox cars will keep him busy, take those items along.
  • Try take-out. Who says you have to eat at the restaurant? For something special, get your meal to go and then eat it as a picnic.
  • Bring a back-up snack. You may want to carry a stash of Cheerios or other surefire snack in case your food ends up taking longer than expected. It can help take the cranky edge off (but you don't necessarily have to get it out).
  • Order an appetizer as a meal. Part of the fun of dining out is letting your child experience new tastes and flavors – often hard to find on a typical kids' menu. Try out an appetizer instead.
  • Practice manners at home. During your own mealtimes, encourage your children to behave as they would in the restaurant, meaning no talking too loudly and sitting patiently and using forks, instead of fingers.

Don't …

  • Take young kids fine dining. Upscale restaurants' calming atmospheres beg kids to have full-blown tantrums – and they usually don't have child-friendly cuisine. So, as a general rule, skip it for the under-8 set.
  • Go during restaurants' busiest times. Avoiding them ensures you get the best service – and that you won't be waiting around for your table or food (both guaranteed to induce whininess in kids). An early lunch or dinner is usually ideal.
  • Go during naptime. We've all done it – figured that "just this once" you can take your child to a restaurant during her scheduled sleep and she'll still behave. Don't.
  • Wait at the bar. It's just not usually an appropriate place for little kids.
  • Let your kids wander the restaurant. It isn't just rude for the other restaurant patrons – it's dangerous (waiters are often hustling by tables with large, heavy trays of hot food). And the ultimate no-no: Kids should NOT under ANY circumstances stand on chairs, booths or tables. It's just bad etiquette.
  • Always order off the kids' menu. Why not let your child split an adult entrée? Your child may be more excited about going if he knows he won't be stuck eating fried chicken tenders every time. Philly cheese-steak sandwich, mom?
  • Have dessert. OK, you can break this rule now and then. But if your child's been the perfect angel your entire meal, don't push your luck. If you really want something sweet after, order it to go – or hit an ice cream parlor on your way home.

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