The Brave New World of Family Travel

Road-Side Picnics and Family-Friendly Food
By Nancy L. Prichard
Page 4 of 5   |  

Dining out with young children can be exhausting for parents. The trick is to keep things exciting—generally a balloon or two is much more interesting than a gourmet feast. While dinner at a pizza or hamburger joint is the most economical bet, three restaurant meals a day can get expensive, and drive parents crazy with leftover food and kids who'd rather run wild than eat. Mixing up locations for meals can keep kids attention—dinner at a restaurant can be a treat to earn, with the anticipation resulting in good behavior.

Breakfasts in the hotel room, campsite, or at a roadside park are fun, easy, and efficient. Pack their favorite cereals (the individual boxes that act as bowls work best) and things like Entenmanns, sliced melon, bananas, Go-Gurts, and juice boxes are popular and convenient. For protein, try smoked, sliced ham, and cream cheese on bagels. For mid-day snacks, pack raisins, cookies, peanut butter and jelly, and deli meats and cheesed for sandwiches.

Picnics are great for any meal. Rather than a traditional basket, designate a backpack or tote for essentials like a plastic cutting board, napkins, wipes, silverware, cups, plastic table cloth, and condiments. From highway rest stops to the thousands of parks across the country, picnics are a chance for kids to stretch their legs (and arms and vocal cords), and get a more intimate view of the country than restaurants and hotels have to offer. Most cities have dozens of parks with picnic tables (www.cityparksalliance.org); schools, especially in the summer months, are great for playgrounds and big grass fields.

When you pick restaurants, consider those that cater to the family crowd. McDonald's $1 menu is ideal for a quick on-the-road bite; Happy Meals (the toy part is key) work well as rewards for good behavior. Lots of restaurants have "Kids Eat Free" nights (www.kidseatfree.com). Many family chains like IHOP, Denny's, Roadhouse, Applebee's, Old Chicago, Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, and T.G.I. Fridays have designated Kids Eat Free nights, as do many local hotspots. Most are for children ages 12 and under, accompanied by an adult. Look for family-friendly happy hours with half-priced hors d'oeuvres and mini pizzas.


Published: 22 May 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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