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Tips for dining with kids

Whether for convenience or special occasions, going out to eat is becoming more and more common among American families. In fact, according to a recent survey, more than 80 percent of families dine out once a month or more, and nearly half eat out at least once a week. To help make your dining experience as easy and enjoyable as possible, the National Restaurant Association offers the following tips for eating out with kids.

Kid-friendly, parent approved: Choose a restaurant that can accommodate your family's wide range of needs and tastes. If young children are present, look for a restaurant that has a kid's menu, crayons, booster chairs and toys.

Family Time 101: Eating out as a family is different than eating out as a couple or with co-workers. Adapt to the situation and appreciate the time together. Research shows that kids enjoy and value this time with their families.

A lesson at home: Practice table manners, public behavior and politeness at home, not just when eating out. This will help children and teenagers be more comfortable when eating out in more formal settings.

Timing is everything: If you have children who are used to eating early or may become impatient with a long wait, go out early or call ahead for a reservation. Also, pick a time when other schedules such as homework, social activities and part-time jobs won't interfere.

Forewarned is forearmed: Going out to eat as a family is not always simple. For younger children, remember all items that are needed, such as sippy cups, utensils and toys. For older children, be prepared to address their issues and problems, and understand their needs. Let them order their own meals, which will help them feel more important and adult-like.

At your service: The staff is there to serve you, and working with them will create a more enjoyable experience for everyone. If you have special requests, such as serving the children's meals with the appetizer course, let your server know as soon as possible.

Let them entertain you: Choose a restaurant that has a theme, entertainment or servers dressed in costume. This will help keep the children's attention and maintain their positive behavior. For older children, pick a restaurant that's a hot spot so they have something cool to tell their friends.

Variety is the spice of life: Encourage older children to try new foods, but remember that younger children are often more comfortable with familiar items. Change can be good, but be prepared for outcomes that are not expected - like children not enjoying what they ordered and wanting something else. Encourage them to try it, but do not make them finish the meal. Be flexible and open-minded.

Dinner guests: Bringing a friend can make the experience of dining out more enjoyable for kids of all ages. Inviting friends and family can change the mood and make the experience more memorable for everyone. It's also a great way to get to know your kids' friends.

Eat, drink and be merry: Humor is a good solution when things are not going as planned. Remember that kids will be kids and teenagers will be teenagers. Roll with the punches because mishaps can, and likely will, happen.

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