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Kids: Don't Leave Home Without Them

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A Recipe for Dining-Out Success

Just because your child favors mac and cheese and chicken fingers doesn't mean he can't develop an appetite for slightly finer dining.
■ How to pull it off: Places with a fairly high noise level, as opposed to quiet, white-tablecloth joints, are good bets - they're casual and kids love the energy, and you'll love that the noise masks any outbursts. Go in the early evening before the crowds arrive, suggests Sara Andrews, a nursery-school teacher who moonlights as a waitress at an upscale eatery in Brooklyn. And bring toys to help keep your child occupied. Cathy White, 37, of El Dorado, CA, takes a "restaurant survival pack": a pencil box with some nonmessy art supplies and fun stickers that are reserved just for restaurants. "Because Maya doesn't use the kit every day, it's fresh to her, so she's immersed while we wait for our food to be served," White says. Another key to an enjoyable experience: interaction. Point out interesting things in the restaurant and discuss with your child which foods you're going to eat. If your child feels ignored, whining or a tantrum is practically guaranteed.
■ Biggest saboteurs: "Dining out is a sedentary experience, so it can be a challenge for a toddler who wants to practice his exciting new motor skills," says Stefanie Powers, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, a nonprofit children's research center in Washington, DC. Request a table near open space so your child can walk around. And order an appetizer that can be prepared quickly so he doesn't have to wait too long for food. Many restaurants will whip up a child-friendly dish - buttered pasta, a mini burger - even if it's not on the menu.

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