How To: Dine With Kids 

Dining out with children doesn't have to be a nightmare

An article about dining out with kids could consist of one word: "don't." But it doesn't have to be that way. As of this writing, my son is just shy of 2 years old and he has been eating in restaurants almost all his life. That sounds like insanity to a lot of new parents--and it did to my wife and me, too, until we realized that if we didn't risk being "those people" who have to drag a flailing scream-machine past a room full of strangers, we would have to wait years before enjoying a meal outside the house.

Admittedly, this gets harder the more kids you have, but it's not as scary as it seems. You have to approach bringing your little one(s) to a restaurant like you would any high-risk activity--have back-up plans in place, be flexible and adopt a quick exit strategy.

First, a few tenets:

Pick your place with care. Italian, Mexican or Chinese are good bets. Not only is the atmosphere usually more laid back, but you can pretty much always find something kid-friendly--garlic bread, chips or egg rolls.

Sit in the back of the restaurant. Ask to be seated as close to the bathrooms as possible (this is a no-brainer). If the weather is nice and the place has a big patio, sitting outside is a must.

Know your limits. Unless your kid is Emily Post reincarnated, he or she isn't going to sit for a three-course meal. If you're going to have wine, get it by the glass. Order an appetizer immediately when you sit down and be ready with your entrees when the server returns. Also, appetizers can be a meal. Learn to love them. (What's more, most restaurants put their menus online. It doesn't hurt to peruse the board of fare before you leave the house.)

Don't use your cellphone for entertainment. Talk to your date, talk to your kid. I promise, your child will be far more entertained (and for longer) if you're actually engaged at the table.

Know when to go. If it looks like your wee one is starting to get fussy, ask for to-go boxes--and the check--at the earliest opportunity. Flee before the fireworks start.

Clean up after you and yours. Self-explanatory, I should think.

Luckily, Boise is a great city for kid-friendly dining. Of course there are the usual sticky-booth, French fry-littered chains, but kids pick up on misery and almost everybody is miserable in those places. In Boise there are plenty of actual sit-down restaurants, with wine lists and atmosphere, where parents need not fear to tread.

For my little family, it's hard to beat Bardenay's downtown patio (or any patio on the Basque Block, for that matter). Aside from the cocktails and never-fail appetizers, Bardenay is a member of the Kids LiveWell program from the National Restaurant Association. That means they have an excellent, healthy kids' menu ($4.95 for kids under 12), which even includes a brunch option. (For more Kids LiveWell restaurants, check outtoeatwithkids.com.)

We have also enjoyed great success at Asiago's, Alavita and Fork, all downtown, as well. The spacious, relaxed interior of Asiago's puts our boy at ease, and dining on a weeknight (always a good plan) means we can pretty much always get a secluded table near the bathrooms. The caprese is a favorite of our kid, as well as the calamari steak strips. At Alavita, the quarters are tighter, but the bustle is a great distraction for a little person. My son will eat the bejeesus out of Alavita's grilled broccolini, and I once saw him tear down a plate of squid ink linguine. The asparagus fries at Fork are another favorite, as well as the wild mushroom and local herb pesto ravioli.

In the midst of weekend errands, my family has been known to stop off for an appetizer and beer. Bittercreek Alehouse (polenta fries), 10 Barrel Brewing Co. (salmon lettuce wraps) and Highlands Hollow (crab and artichoke dip) are all excellent, kid-friendly options. As is Solid, in BoDo, with its enormous patio and appetizer platter.

We live on the Bench, so we can sometimes be found taking brunch at Quinn's Restaurant and Lounge or CasaBlanca Cuban Grill.

These are only a few suggestions, and I can't say every family night out has gone smoothly. You can't have everything, but with proper planning and a good attitude, you can try.

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