"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
- Mark Twain
"Dad's working late, so we're going out."
"Whoo Hoo!" yelled my kids.
"You're taking them out to dinner?" asked my friend, Dora.
"It's easier than eating at home."
Dora squinted at me like I was insane, then she glanced over at her own kids and sarcastically said, "Have fun!"
I don't understand why people think taking kids to dinner is hard? When Dad (the only one in our family who will eat whatever I put in front of him) is out of town, cooking a gourmet meal for a group of "I love Mac and Cheese" kids is exhausting. There's the undesired exercise routine that begins as soon as I get the food to the table: I'm up and down, back and forth from table to kitchen answering commands for more milk, more food, and the perfect table utensil.
By the time I am able to sit and eat, everyone else is finished and antsy to get away from the table. Then I'm left to eat an ice-cold meal by myself. If we eat out, we are out. My kids get out of the house and experience a 'different' evening routine. All our meals come at the same time.
Once in a while, I have to cut up someone's food or steal ketchup or a fork from another table, but it's the only time I see my family eat together. And the best part: I arrive home to a clean house. No dirty dishes and my kids are usually so exhausted; they've fallen asleep in the car - a good sign that everyone had a great time.
Last Monday, it was after homework when my daughter, Meg, began to whine, "I want dinner!" I turned to my cold kitchen and sighed, "To the car everyone!"
Thankfully, if you keep your eyes open and be flexible, the dinner choices for kids are endless.
There's the "buy one get one kid's meal free" deal at places like Ruby Tuesday; the character visits to Red Robin each and every Thursday evening; and the Happy Hour Dinners at restaurants like Chicago For Ribs (our favorite: Super cheap, delicious food in great kid perfect portions).
Last night, we went to the Daily Grill and discovered their discount Happy Hour menu has shrimp on it. We had three orders of it and our bill was under $12 for three people!
The biggest trick in eating out with the kids is remaining calm. Sure they are going to act up. Sure they are going to spill something. Sure they are going to yell or shout "poopy-head" to each other. They are kids. That's what kids do. But if you get them out at an early age and show them how to sit, hold their fork, and keep salt and pepper in their shakers, not on their siblings' head, going out to dinner with kids is fun and educational.
Of course, you must first be ready to get over the fact dozens of strangers, people you don't know and won't ever get to know, will stare at you simply because you showed up in public with children. Smile at them. Smile big. Take one of the restaurant crayons, and put it up your nose. Then watch the entertaining reactions including your restaurant-educated children - to remove the crayon immediately. You are embarrassing them.
Share your own humourous family experiences with Laurie at firstname.lastname@example.org.