“We’re definitely the only people here who needed room for a stroller,” I said to my husband from across the little black table. It was 9pm, and we were out for late night sushi as new parents–not something we usually did but our three-month-old slept soundly on long walks and through meals–so we just went for it. A date night without paying for a babysitter. We thought we were hot stuff, and it worked well for us.
So, last my husband knew, I enjoyed spontaneous trips to restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops–you name it–I was almost always game.
Let’s fast forward to three years and an additional baby later. We’re at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. Our one-year-old is acting like we are torturing him by restraining him to a high chair. He is throwing his quesadilla on the dirty restaurant floor. We could’ve just eliminated the middle man and given him six dollars to toss wherever he pleased.
I’m down to my last sip of a margarita (a RARE treat for me) and the last few bites of my enchilada when nature calls our three-year-old. He can’t wait. Must. poop. NOW. I see my husband has much more dinner left than I do, so I volunteer as tribute–I mean–to escort him. “Please don’t let the waiter take my food or my drink,” I instruct my husband as I walk by him.
My son and I go to the public restroom and do what no parent enjoys doing.
I return and my plate is GONE.
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Vanished. Those last few bites I intended on savoring were somewhere in the kitchen trash now.
WHAT HAPPENED? I ask my husband with my dragon voice. “You told me to make sure he didn’t take your drink, right?” Worst time to do that half-listening husband thing (still love him though. ;)
And that’s kind of how eating out with our young kids goes these days. It’s paying something like $40 for us to put our dinner time on display for the public eye. Trying to keep our kids seated and behaving well while dinner is cooked in the kitchen is something we never do at home (does anyone?), so the restaurant experience is just challenging. Coloring only goes so far with our boys, and heaven forbid if we hand them our phones for all the judgmental world to see.
It’s being in a place where if food is either accidentally or intentionally dropped on the floor, that’s it. It’s gone. Goodbye to whatever money you spent on it.
It’s where half the time one kid will eat every bite and want more (no seconds here, bud), and the other one will flat out refuse to eat at all. And in both cases, I would so rather them waste or scarf down a second helping of the much cheaper food I cook at home.
It’s where we get mean mugged by the childfree adults around us if our kids throw anything or speak above an acceptable social volume.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not let my children run around like wild animals. We’re striving to shape them into patient, kind and well-behaved people, but it’s just extra difficult at restaurants. And I’m just over it.
So I’m declaring it now for my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my friends and all the world to read in black and white–eating out is just NOT a treat for me anymore. I’m sure it will be again someday. But not while the kids are young like this. I would much rather contain our chaos to a comfortable setting and NOT pay top dollar for it.
I know it seems a little crazy because a mom like me who cooks three meals a day and cleans up after all of them really appreciates a rest from all that labor. But the elevated stress levels brought on by eating out isn’t a fair trade off anymore. So, I’ve come up with a list of alternative ways to treat a mom (or dad!) with young kids:
1.) Arrange for a babysitter or offer to babysit.
Eating out is a treat when I’m just with my husband. This isn’t a revelation to most of you, but for me, coming off of a season where we tried to spend as little as possible, hiring a babysitter seemed like such a luxury I couldn’t financially justify. If you know a family that could use a night out, maybe offer the gift of free loving childcare. It’s such a blessing. And for the rest of you, just book a babysitter and go have that date night.
2.) Order dinner service
I’m sure you’ve heard of these pre-prepared dinners delivered to your door around the Internet. I highly recommend giving one a try–especially if you’re stuck in a dinner rut and nothing about your own cooking is exciting your tastebuds lately. (<–me!)
We got to try a new local-to-Houston-area dinner service called Maria’s Gourmet Kitchen recently (disclaimer: it was at no cost to me in exchange for my honest review), and I LOVED it. I got to choose from dozens of dinner options. I selected the Jerk Salmon with orange mango sauce and rice and beans.
Of course, I’m super organized (NOT) so I didn’t remember that it was coming. And at about 4pm, when I was trying to decide what to do with the chicken breast thawing on my counter, the doorbell rang and dinner was waiting on my doorstep! (It was well-chilled in a cooler bag so it would have been fine to wait there a while.)
The dinner came with a disposable pan so dirty dishes were minimal. The salmon cooked up perfectly in my oven per the instructions, the rice and beans only needed heating in the microwave and I basically wanted to drench the whole dinner in that delicious mango sauce. YUM. Oh, and I got to apply my own jerk seasoning so I spiced mine up and toned it down for the kids’ pieces.
Dinner services like this one aren’t going to be cheaper than grocery shopping and cooking everything yourself, but if we’re using it as a treat–the occasional luxury that every mom deserves–and especially in the place of eating out at a restaurant–it is 100% worth it. You can set up a schedule for as many as two meals per week or space it out a bit more. It can work for any budget depending on how frequently you use it!
Click here to peruse the menu and meal schedule for Maria’s Gourmet Kitchen! (<—Be careful though, you may find yourself drooling as you flip through photos of steak fajitas, BBQ baby back ribs, and chicken parmesan!)
3.) Get takeout.
Eat it at home and enjoy a night with no dinner prep or kitchen cleanup. Spend the extra time playing with the kiddos. Or better yet, go eat it at a park! That’s probably my favorite way to get out of the house for a meal. And the kids love it, too.
We keep a water-resistant picnic blanket in the car, so we’re always ready for an outdoor dinner adventure. Highly recommend!
4.) Eat somewhere with a place for kids to play.
There are a few restaurants around us that have playgrounds, and they are always my first picks. Joe’s Crab Shack and Chick-fil-a are our go-to’s if we are about to have dinner out, but we know the kids have a LOT of energy.
5.) Seek out Kids Eat Free/Cheap days
There are too many restaurants that offer kids eat free days for you to pay for kids’ meals on the regular. Because I err on the frugal side of thinking (often preventing me from enjoying expensive experiences), it helps set my mind at ease if our meal costs a little less. Look at local blogs to find lists of kids eat free restaurants.
Houston parents, here is a link I visit frequently. Or, next time you’re at your favorite place, ask them if they have any kid-friendly promotions!
6.) Go out for quick bites or dessert with the kids.
We still want our kids to learn how to behave when we’re in public, and we still like to treat them to different foods and experiences every once in a while. The key is to not push their limits, attention spans, or bedtimes. So my favorite way to go out with them and still enjoy the whole experience is to go to quick counter-service spots or dessert shops. Donuts shops, bakeries, ice cream shops–all make for an occasional treat.
So there you have it, six ways to treat a mom (or dad!) who is just over the restaurant scene. Can anyone relate to this feeling? I’d love to hear about your thoughts or experiences in the comments!
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