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Eating out with kids

Take stress out of family dining and have fun

kids, family restaurants, ice cream
Melting ice cream leaves its messy mark on the unhappy face of Erica Higg’s daughter, Abby.

Face it, eating out with young children who might not be able to communicate their needs and wants can be stressful. It can turn what should be a celebration for a special occasion, a fun weekday night or a spur-of-the moment weekend trip to a restaurant into a big headache. However, with some simple tips and tricks, the stressors of eating out with young ones can be a distant memory.

When heading to a restaurant with her family, Courtney Mas of Beacon,brings a special placemat. 

"Pack a silicone placemat," she said. "Then you don't have to worry about your children eating off the table. Also, any spills or crumbs are caught so (there's) no need to apologize to your waiter at the end of dinner. Try not to be too hard on yourself, either. Almost every parent has had the screaming kid in the restaurant."

Carol Trinchinato also is from Beacon and uses foods her kids like as a tactic for stress-free eating out with her children.

"I bribe my children with food," she said. "I always go to a place where I will be able to find something they like and they will also enjoy a meal."

Trinchinato's 1-year-old can complicate the process because of her young age, but now, the mom said, her little one is getting the hang of eating by herself and keeping busy. 

"(It's) always great if I have extra help, however, when I'm by myself, food always does the job," said Trinchinato. 

In fact, Trinchinato has a list of family-friendly places she turns to for snacks and meals. 

"We love going to Adams, not only because they have children's grocery carts but also for the food," she said. "Our go-to is the cupcakes. When it's warm enough we sit outside the store and have a nice time with all the sugary goodies."

Trinchinato also likes the Big Mouth Cafe in Beacon.

"It's nice and my 4-year-old and her friends have a great time drinking a delicious hot chocolate in this chilly weather," she said. 

Iris Haddock uses family-time activities to make dining out a fun experience, like having chats with the kids and doing pencil-and-paper and phone games.

"I'm a mom of four school-aged children ages 15, 13, 10, and 5," she said. "When we go out for dinner, we usually go during off-peak hours. While waiting for the food to arrive, we let each kid have a turn at talking about how their day was at school and then play Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman, color, or solve word puzzles like CodyCross on the phone."

Another tip is BYOC - bring ring your own cup. How many parents can relate to the dreaded chocolate milk knock-over or ice-cold water on the lap? Who wants that lake of destruction overpowering everything in its path as everyone scrambles for napkins to stop it before it turns into a cascading waterfall to the ground? And the misery if it destroys the child's placemat masterpiece, sending him or her into a tailspin of tears and spilled milk. There's an easy solution, just BYOC; something with a strong, locking top and a straw. 

A change of clothes is also important. Don't think that just because the child is potty-trained that clothes won't be ruined. Sometimes potty accidents still happen and as mentioned before, so do spills. Things like ketchup, gravy, and other items can also warrant a change of clothes. Especially ice cream. Ice cream has a mind of its own.

Variety is the spice of life and another key to successful eating out for some children. Many people are not fans of buffets, however, with the ever-changing likes and dislikes of a child's food palette, they can be helpful. For instance, my child, Abby, loves the buffet-style menu at the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch. For each meal she either goes for traditional favorites, such as olives and goldfish, or tries something new. She also loves the dessert.

Think of a child's sensory needs when picking where to eat. Some children need a quieter experience, as loud noisy places can be overwhelming. I'm not suggesting a five-star, tiny bistro with a strolling violinist playing Vivaldi as you casually dine. Just be aware of your child's sensory needs and challenges. If he or she is old enough, headphones can drown out some noise and be attached to iPod or other music devices.

Pack a busy bag. Not every special event or restaurant accommodates children. Besides, activity placemats can become tiresome. Many places provide a packet of crayons, however, some parents can practically hear the germs laughing and mocking them as the child touches the crayons and then proceeds to rub his or her eyes and face. Besides, siblings can bicker over them. If a bag is packed with items that everyone enjoys, mealtime can be more peaceful and less germy.
Eating out with your kids doesn't have to be stressful. It can be lots of laughs for everyone. Just follow some simple tips. 

Erica Higgs is a local homeschooling mom to her four-year-old mini, Abby. She is a blogger at and a local artist who loves seeking new adventures all around the Hudson Valley and beyond.