Dining out with children can be difficult, especially if there are no toys included with the meal. But going for dinner as a family doesn’t have to be limited to chain restaurants and bland food – expand your kids’ taste bud horizons and step in to one of Calgary’s many delicious restaurants.

Kids love Italian food: it’s a fact. They might not know it, but they love it. After all, what kid doesn’t like pizza? Pasta? Yes, there is more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta, but those two foods are no-fail kid pleasers.

One Calgary restaurant that is sure to please both you and your children is La Viena (2139 Kensington Road NW). It’s a delightful Italian restaurant situated a few blocks west of the trendy Kensington and 10 Street shops and restaurants, snugly between a convenience store and a doggy day care; but don’t let its locale confuse you.

Upon entering La Viena, you are greeted by exceptionally friendly staff. Make sure that you make reservations ahead of time at this popular restaurant to ensure there’s space for the whole family. La Viena is not a quiet place – not to say it’s too loud, but just loud enough to take kids to without having to worry whether they’re going to be a little too boisterous for a night out.

Appetizers are a great way to introduce your children to some new flavors. A few good options: Calamari; Provolone Alla Milanese, breaded and fried provolone cheese with a sour cream sauce; and Gamberrttii Al Vino, shrimp in a garlic white wine sauce.

If your kids are light eaters, a soup or salad may be a good option. The Minestrone is full of fresh garden vegetables; and the Zuppa Cipola, baked onion soup with bread and mozzarella, is a slightly heartier choice. Most of the salads are quite simple and would appeal to kids, so why not order a big one for the family to share?

There is a large selection of pasta dishes on the menu, and some of the best ones for kids include: Fettuccini Primavera, fettuccini with vegetables in a garlic tomato wine sauce; Spaghetti Alla Bolognese, spaghetti with fresh meat or tomato sauce; Penne Hawaii, sausage, chicken and pineapple in a tomato cream sauce (great for those who like Hawaiian pizza!). And for kids who aren’t shy of seafood, Linguini Vongole, linguini with baby clams in a garlic wine sauce, might be a good choice.

As for pizza, it definitely isn’t delivery. For cheese pizza lovers, try Mozzarella, with basil, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Vegetariana is nice as a no-meat option with onions, red peppers, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes. Feeling tropical? Try Con Pollo, with spicy grilled chicken, sautéed onion, pineapple and hot peppers (don’t forget to ask for it without hot peppers if your kids aren’t into spicy foods!). Don’t worry if none of these options suit your kids’ tastes, they can create their own.To top it off, La Viena has a spectacular dessert menu. However, if everyone is feeling like something a little lighter, walk across the street to Amato Gelato (amatogelato.com) and grab a gelato or sorbetto.

Before you go, remember these three lessons:
Lesson #1: You’d be surprised what kids will eat vs. what they won’t. Who decides that they won’t eat something? Quite often, parents think, Oh, she wouldn’t like that, so they stick with bland food. Kids are much more adventurous when it comes to food than they get credit for.

Lesson #2: Explain, explain, explain. If you order something off a menu in a restaurant, the name of the food can be a little overwhelming – especially for a child, and especially in a place that is serving food that may be somewhat foreign to them. Let your child know what’s in it, that it might not be as strange as it sounds.

Lesson #3: Be adventurous! Try new dishes and encourage your kids to try it, too. If they’d like to order something a little simpler, order an appetizer or a side dish that they’ve never had. But don’t be pushy; kids are more likely to try a new food if they feel they are making the decision rather than being told to try it. 

Three more restaurants that will introduce a little culture into children’s lives (and mouths!):

MONGOLIAN
Khublai Mongolian Szechuan Cuisine – 349, 10 Avenue SW. 

EUROPEAN
Edelweiss Village – 1921, 20 Avenue NW. 

MEXICAN
Salt ‘n Pepper – 4351 Macleod Trail SW;
6515 Bowness Road NW; 114-3 Avenue West, Cochrane.