Dining With Kids: 10 Tips for Avoiding Meltdown While On Vacation

Kids and restaurants are a volatile combination. Add in the surprise of a new place, hours of sightseeing, and jetlag… well needless to say you’ve got to get creative to maintain an even keel and (dare we suggest it) a pleasurable dinner out while abroad. Luckily, help is on the way! Here are our ten best tips for successful family meals while traveling.

Be a little daring

Sticking to familiar chain eateries seems to negate a big part of visiting a foreign place. Ask around for appropriate eateries, preferably establishments that are emblematic of your destination. It will be much more fun than dining at the same places you could visit at home.

Be realistic

The time to introduce a new food to your child is not at the end of a long day, when he’s missed both his naps and he’s starving. An inadventurous palate at home is likely to be equally inadventurous on the road. Choose eateries that allow you to introduce local flavors while offering more familiar foods as well.

Avoid arriving overly hungry

Famished children are notoriously miserable, and Murphy’s Law dictates that the hungriest people in the restaurant will be served last. Avert disaster with bread, crackers, or the Cheerios or graham crackers you have stashed in your bag.

Order for the kids first

There’s no shame in staggering everyone’s meals, regardless of the type of restaurant—the timing will benefit everyone. Before your server even finishes saying, “Hello my name is… ,” place your order for the little ones. Request grown-up drinks and fare when the server returns.

Let them eat cake

The most brazen approach to the staggered meal works best at your hotel: feed kids their main dish via room service and later let them eat dessert while you enjoy dinner. It may raise a few eyebrows among your fellow diners, but as long as they’re well behaved, who cares?

Be creative

Don’t feel shackled by the children’s menu, and don’t despair if there isn’t one: many restaurants will be happy to adjust grown-up meals. Linguine without the clam sauce and chicken Parmesan without the Parmesan (but maybe with ketchup) are good bets. On the other hand, ask ahead about the kitchen’s flexibility, and find out whether kiddie meals have grown-up prices.

Pack a stash of little packages of ketchup

If your child usually slathers it on everything, come prepared. For the record: the French don’t have a word for “ketchup.”

Take a hint

You may have the most well-behaved cherubs on the planet, but that will be irrelevant if the restaurant doesn’t want them. “We don’t prohibit children, but we don’t recommend bringing them” is a hint. Take it and move on.

Know when to give up on table manners

The fancy macaroni and cheese made with real cheddar and Parmesan pales next to the freeze-dried cheese-food product your children love at home. The restaurant’s pasta is too saucy, or your child is simply cranky. Whatever the cause of the fussiness—especially if it escalates into a meltdown—be considerate of the hapless diners around you. Pay your bill and leave. Enjoy your gourmet doggie bags back in your hotel room after the kids have gone to bed.

Try takeout if all else fails

Grab some picnic fixings at a local food shop and head for a playground. Without the stress of a full-service meal, your kids might just become adventurous enough to sample a new flavor or two—and actually enjoy them.