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Bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes as well as a pair of sandals or Tevas. Before you leave home, break in your new shoes so you're not uncomfortable on the road.

On the Road: Places to Eat

Traveling with kids

ON THE ROAD: Part Three (of 5)

Compliments of: "Travel With Children" by Maureen Wheeler (Lonely Planet Publications), 155 Filbert Street, Suite 251, Oakland, CA 94607.

RULES OF THE ROAD:

PLACES TO EAT

Even the most remote small local restaurants will be quite happy to see children. Even the open-air stall in a small town in Malaysia will have a high chair which proprietors will produce with a flourish when they see you coming. In fact in some developing countries they will do everything other than actually feed your child. I don't know how many times Tashi or Kieran were taken for a walk to see the relatives while I ate my meal in peace.

Nor do most small places mind the mess; lots of little street-front restaurants in Asia have concrete floors which brush straight on to the street. Besides, what self-respecting Chinese would expect anyone to eat without making a mess?

Nevertheless, you may find that you have to eat at more expensive restaurants or in the more expensive hotels more often than you might wish. Small children are notoriously unadventurous in their eating habits and you may have to pass up some wonderful local eating opportunities while you search for some place that can produce an imitation of a mundane cheese and tomato sandwich or a hot dog. Having said that, beware of the hot dogs that look wonderful but the first bite brought a howl of pained disbelief because the "tomato sauce" is really chili, and the "spaghetti bolognese" that bears no earthly resemblance in taste to what your children (and you) are use to. No matter how they are described on the menu you will to some extent just have to cross your fingers and hope. A quick rule of thumb is the bigger and flashier the hotel, the more "authentic" the Western food will be.

Unfamiliar food or not, there are some great dining possibilities which children will love. In Japan, eating out is made much easier by the plastic versions of what you can expect to eat inside, displayed in the window of the restaurant. While it certainly makes ordering easy you may have to dissuade your child form ordering the most luridly colored dishes. Remind them they have to eat them as well as look at them!

One seafood restaurant we visited several times in Sri Lanka provided endless interest with its corral of crabs, awaiting their fate. In Singapore and in other parts of Asia, many Chinese restaurants have virtual aquariums full of fish, prawns and other extremely fresh dining possibilities. The chef spinning out noodles on the spot had our kids enthralled at a restaurant in Hong Kong and what child could resist a Mongolian hot pot, Korean barbecue or Malaysian steamboat where you cook the food yourself, Swiss fondue style, right on the table. While all this may be fun, the children still may not eat.

We've had some wonderful children's food surprises over the years. All over the sub-continent, producing amazing cakes is a real art. Tashi had a marvelous third birthday cake baked in Kathmandu; it was a vision in mustard yellow, candy pink and lime green with icing flowers, three candles and "Happy Birthday" in English and Nepali.

Eating in restaurants is a mixed pleasure with children. Usually children enjoy eating out, but it does require a fairly sensible attitude. Choose restaurants that are not too crowded; possibly by eating earlier you can miss the crowds. Restaurants where you can eat outside are also worth looking out for. Check the menu to make sure there is something your children can eat. If there isn't a high chair and you have to have a child on your knee, don't order soup.

SERVINGS

Older children make for easier dining companions, but in general the amount of food served in restaurants is too much for a small child. While a sandwich may sound the right size, it can come with chips (French fries) and salad which remain untouched. Entrees (appetizers) are often the right amount of food for children, or sharing a meal between two can work out if both people can agree on what to share! Tony and I often order three dishes for the four of us and then everyone takes what they want (in some restaurants two meals are adequate).

TREATS

Compromise is a necessary attribute for traveling families, but really it is the parents who have to compromise. Your children would be perfectly happy to stay home; this trip is your idea. If you want them to have a positive attitude towards travel you must meet them halfway. You can always go without a meal but your children can't. If your children are feeling a little bit homesick, familiar food can help to allay the feeling that home has disappeared. A splurge on a milkshake or ice cream can often work wonders and is well worth the money spent.

I remember one particularly miserable trip in Java, Indonesia. There were endless hours in a crowded, slow and very uncomfortable bemo. We finally arrived at a rather gloomy hotel in Bandung just as it began to pour with rain. We were all tired, fed up and rather cranky. Tony went out and scouted around while I tried to cheer up the children; after a little while he was back with the news that we were close to a great place to eat and several cake shops. Off we went: a good spaghetti bolognese, pizza, soft drink, followed by a visit to the cake shops, then back to the hotel carrying three little boxes of disgusting looking cakes, to find that there was a video showing "Teenwolf" with Michael J. Fox.

It all had absolutely nothing to do with why you go to Java, but the day had been completely turned around and the kids thought Bandung was terrific!

ALTERNATIVES

There are occasions when a restaurant is not a good idea: when you have been out all afternoon, and now it's dinner time and the baby is tired, and you all feel a bit strained and hungry. An older child may express their misery with a continuous, aggravating whine. This is not the time to be shushing them and pointing out to them that the whole restaurant is watching, that will only raise the decibel level. At times like this a quiet meal in your room can be a terrific alternative.

ROOM SERVICE

Room service is one way of doing it. The inflated prices and sometimes mediocre food which seem to come with room service are nothing compared to the joy of not having to set out to find a restaurant, find something everyone can eat, keep the children awake and happy through the process of ordering and waiting for food to arrive and then persuade them to eat something.

Children usually really enjoy room service (little hedonists) and if it is kept for those special occasions, the idea of a "treat" may cheer them up completely. In the privacy of your room they can eat how they like, in their pajamas perhaps, ready to go to bed right after. There will be a mess of course, so try to avoid eating on the beds.

TAKE-AWAYS

Even cheap hotels can usually send someone out to get take-aways for you. In Asia there always seems to be a local restaurant or cafe just around the corner, and take-aways probably were invented here!

Alternatively one of the parents can go on a food-gathering mission to a local fast food place, a restaurant with take-aways, or even to a night market or food stall. Some places in Asia are quite ingenious when it comes to devising take-away packages, as are the restaurants where the hotel staff likes to send out for noodles or tea; eating out is quite a cornerstone of Asian restaurants and coffee shops.

UTENSILS & EQUIPMENT

Carry spout-cups for small children to have their drinks from; this can save a lot of spills. If they refuse to be seen drinking from spout cups, teach them to drink through straws, which they can usually manage from an early age. Always carry a mop-up cloth, bibs, wet wipes and other cleaning apparatus. It helps to have your own plate and spoon, so that you can organize a small portion for your child without having to wait for the waiter to bring you what you need, or go through the sometimes frustrating task of trying to get him to understand that you really want an extra empty plate.

(Don't forget to check out this entire article - Parts 1 through 5.)

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