You’ve waited all year for it—that wonderful vacation in a sunny spot. You’ve rearranged the kids’ schedules, packed gallons of sun screen, and remembered your favorite pair of sunglasses. One challenge of the road remains? Where can you stop for a meal with kids in tow?
The good news is that many restaurants now serve food with child appeal and make great efforts to entertain young diners. Some chains, like Cracker Barrel Country Stores are mini-Americana museums with games on the tables and delicious country cooking. At the Rainforest Cafés, there are erupting volcanoes, indoor thunderstorms and a family-oriented menu of burgers, pizza and sandwiches.
These independent restaurants are favorites with kids and also serve plenty of items that appeal to the grown-ups who pay the check:
Kids love Laney’s Restaurant (Rts. 11 and 30, 2/10 of a mile east of Rt. 7 in Manchester, Vt.,  362-4456,www.laneysrestaurant.com) where the children’s menu is filled with puzzles; walls are decked with sports memorabilia and musical instruments; and it’s fun to watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen and drink out of mason jars. Everything, including the fabulous squiggly fries and pizza dough is made from scratch. Chicken, ribs and the daily fresh fish entrée are accompanied by Laney’s signature red cabbage coleslaw and range from $12.99 – $18.99. Laney’s is open for dinner from 4:30 p.m., seven days a week.
What’s more fun than a hayride before the meal? At Crane’s Pie Pantry (6054 124th Ave., Fennville, Mich., between Holland and S. Haven on M-89,  561-8651, www.cranespiepantry.com) kids can ride around the farm, pick apples or peaches in summer or get ?cornfused? in the 15-acre corn maze in the fall, each at a modest fee. The menu features cider as well as milk, tea and coffee but no soft drinks. All ages are wild about the wonderful blueberry, cherry, peach, apple and other pies as well as homemade chili, soups, salads and sandwiches. Open 9 am-8 pm seven days a week. Average entrée: $5.
Beaches (14550 S.W. Murray Scholls Drive, Beaverton, Ore.  579-3737, www.hollandinc.com) supports children’s community programs and wows young diners with a trip to the sundae bar, a bucket of beach toys and a dip into the Treasure Chest for a $5.95 surcharge while grownups devour super-fresh seafood, steaks or loaded salads. Dinner until 9 PM Sunday and Monday; until 10 other nights. Lunch daily 11-4. Adult dinner entrees: $5.95-$25.
Central Market (401 N.Lamar in Austin, Texas  206-1000, www.centralmarket.com) is one of six destination restaurants/markets in the state. Food samples are passed regularly?along with balloons?so kids can try new tastes if they are up for it. The large deck playscape gives kids an outlet before or after they eat. Cooking classes for children are held summer and mid-winter. The menu features fresh ingredients prepared with flair, like the pulled pork primavera sandwich and pasta with uncooked tomato sauce. There’s also a Café on the Run section for delicious take-out. Average entrée, food for kids.
The first thing children spot at Ella’s Deli (2902 E. Washington Ave.,Madison, Wis.  241-5291, www.ellas-deli.com) is the full-sized carousel out front, operating spring through fall at 75 cents a ride. Inside, the ceiling and glass tables swarm with whimsical animated jugglers, trains, flying supermen and more. Ella’s serves soups, salad and classic deli favorites like corned beef, kugel, salads and franks. The grilled pound cake hot fudge sundae, a Madison icon, is a small part of the 12-page dessert menu.Children who join Ella’s birthday club are treated to a special sundae, a free carousel ride, a helium balloon and Happy Birthday sung by a mechanical bear. Average entrée: under $10.