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4 tips for eating out with kids

Toddlers dawdle everywhere  -- except in a chair! To make a restaurant outing more enjoyable:

Time it right. Eat early  -- between 11 and 11:30 A.M. for lunch or 4:30 and 6 P.M. for dinner. You're likely to get quicker service from a more relaxed waiter. And go about 30 minutes before your child's regular meal time, so her food arrives before she's famished and crabby.

Explore first, eat later. Walk your child around the restaurant before the food comes. Ask the bartender for a maraschino cherry, discover the color of the hand soap in the bathroom, or look for other babies to wave to.

Bring something special  -- like a long-lost toy rescued from the playroom, or half of an egg carton filled with goodies like little cars or crayons.

Think big. Who says restaurant toys have to fit in your diaper bag? Bring along a larger one-something that's quiet, doesn't have too many parts, and isn't any bigger than a high chair tray, like a set of soft blocks. The novelty should keep your toddler occupied until the food arrives.

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