Parenthood comes with sacrifices, but dining out shouldn't have to be one of them. Prevent food fights and meltdowns with these precautions.
Step 1: Time it If your child is still a baby, feed, burp, and change them as close as possible to your departure. With any luck, they'll sleep through the meal.
Step 2: Rehearse it With toddlers, rehearse the outing at home. Emphasize that dining out is a privilege and explain that good behavior is essential; otherwise you'll all have to leave the restaurant before having a chance to eat.
Step 3: Choose a restaurant wisely Choose restaurants that accept reservations and seat guests promptly. Find out in advance if they provide kid-friendly food.
TIP: Avoid family restaurants if "family" is code for letting children run wild -- being in that environment may inadvertently teach your kids that this is acceptable behavior at all eateries.
Step 4: Set limits Eat early. Keeping kids up past their bedtime is just asking for trouble. Try to keep the outing to no longer than 90 minutes by ordering promptly and having dessert and coffee at home. Longer than that, and kids are apt to get restless.
Step 5: Bring diversions Bring discreet diversions as well as special treats you can whip out to neutralize a tantrum. Include some finger food favorites in case your child gets fussy.
TIP: Offer young children a choice of two items on the menu; otherwise they might be overwhelmed by the selection.
Step 6: Respect other diners If your child is making a scene, take them outside until they calm down. If they can't be quieted, get your food to go. And tip generously, especially if your child has made a big mess. If you don't, neither you nor your child will be welcomed back!
FACT: According to one survey, 68 percent of childless people polled believe that families with young children should stay out of upscale restaurants.