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Say No to Mealtime Mayhem: Eating Out With Your Baby or Toddler

Many parenting books advise against eating out with young children. Their short attention span and need to be involved in everything will mean a nightmare for you, they say. They're wrong. We eat out regularly with our two year old and have a wonderful time. Here are a few tips to make sure that you can do it too.

First of all, make sure you choose a family-friendly restaurant. Look out for easily accessible (and clean) high chairs, a willingness to warm milk, free bibs and baby food (available at some rest stops and motorway service stations) and entertainment for your child in the form of crayons and paper or a soft play area.

In case none of this is available, you need to take your entertainment with you. Crayons and paper, an etch-a-sketch or other drawing board toy and a couple of books are often enough to distract your child from any thoughts of mayhem.

Choose your time carefully. Ideally, you should arrive half an hour or so before your child's regular mealtime, so that their food arrives on time. And don't even think about going out when your child is already tired - you'll be setting yourself up for the evening from hell.

Children are bad at waiting, so you'll need a food backup in case your order is late. Pack a box of raisins or snack bar. Although you're not supposed to take food from outside into eating establishments, if you politely explain that the alternative is a screaming child, they'll definitely turn a blind eye.

When placing your order, ask for your child's meal to be delivered first. That way, you can do any cutting up that's required and start the feeding process early and you'll be free to focus on your own meal when it arrives.

Make dining out interesting for your child. Talk about what you're going to order; point out what waiters and waitresses are doing; take a tour of the salad bar; discuss whatever's on the walls. Your child will be pleased to be included and won't even think about having a meltdown.

Once you've finished your main meal, ask for your bill at the same time as dessert. You'll want to make a quick getaway once you've demolished a sweet treat, because by then your little darling will be running out of patience.

We've been taking our daughter into restaurants before she could sit up. At first she was in a car seat, then a high chair, and now she can sit on a big chair (she's very proud of that!) She can order her own food (with please and thank you) and talk about what's happening. Don't think she's a paragon of virtue, because she's not - she's a very spirited two year old. But she enjoys eating out and generally behaves well enough for us to stay in the restaurant for an hour and a half or more. Since the parenting books claim that half an hour is pushing it, we don't think that's half bad. Why don't you try it, too?

Sharon Hurley Hall is a freelance writer, ghostwriter and editor. Sharon worked in publishing for 18 years, writing articles and editing and designing books and magazines. She has also lectured on journalism. For more information or to contact Sharon, visit http://www.doublehdesign.com/

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