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Avoid some common pitfalls when dining out with children

Explore various strategies for successful dining out with children.

(Metro) Dining out at restaurants can be an enjoyable activity and a break from kitchen duties at home.

Many people in the United States dine out at least once a week. According to a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, 58 percent of American adults say they visit a restaurant during the week.

Even busy families want to indulge. However, parents of young children may avoid restaurants because of apprehension about the experience. Getting ready for the restaurant excursion can help families avoid some of the common pitfalls. Patience and planning can help dining out with the family go smoothly.

Infants

New parents often need a respite from the near-constant demands of infants. Dining out can be one of those breaks. When a babysitter is unavailable or if you're not yet comfortable leaving a little one with someone else, bringing baby along may be possible.

First, find a family-friendly restaurant or try an establishment that has outdoor seating where you can quickly distance yourself from other diners if need be. Time dining out around the baby's feeding and sleeping schedule. Babies sated by a recent feeding and a relaxing car ride may be more inclined to sleep through your restaurant meal. Just in case, pack an extra bottle or prepare to breastfeed to keep your baby happy.

Toddlers and school age

Active children can learn table manners and restaurant behavior early on through practice. These lessons can open children up to new food experiences and help them grow accustomed to social settings.

Do not set your child up to fail by selecting a restaurant that is too fancy or quiet. Save those restaurants for when your company is adults only. A place that is used to noise (and moderate mess) is better.

A restaurant that has interesting decor, such as an aquarium, can keep toddlers occupied. But bring along some games, toys and other trinkets to keep their attention. Try playing games, such as counting the packets of sugar or finding people wearing red shirts.

Avoid dining out with a tired child and be prompt in selecting meals and eating. This is not a time to linger, as youngsters' attention spans and willingness to sit still tend to be minimal. Be prepared to leave with a to-go box if a child proves unruly.

Older children

Part of the challenge of dining out with older children is holding their attention, but meals can facilitate family conversation and be good for the parent-child dynamic. Set a device-free rule at the table and use the opportunity to converse. Try exotic cuisine or new dining experiences so it is an adventure for all involved.

Dining out with children requires different strategies depending on youngsters' ages.