Leaving the House Part 2: Eating Out

Here is a little diddy about how I have learned to love eating out with my kiddo's! It wasn't always this way. I once beasted the carseat carrier, dragging two toddlers behind me with an exasperated look on my face. I oozed intolerance and high blood pressure when I was in a restaurant with my kiddo's. But eating out is important to me, so we worked on it! Seriously it is one of the cornerstones of my parenting! If I had a family mission statement for our home, it would read as follows:

We love and follow Jesus.
We act and speak kind to one another.
We eat at restaurants, Mommy is tired and hates to cook.

I should get a sign made on Etsy!

The motivation to eat out is obvious: no cooking, no dishes, and no food on the floor-- I'd like to accompany this with a picture of Emmy and Mack two summers ago, when I EXCLUSIVELY fed them outside. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, all eaten on the deck feeding the local wildlife with their crumbs.

Not exaggerating, I felt so sick of scrubbing sweet potato and avocado off the floor we made a permanent decision to not eat inside the house. If it was raining, they ate in the sunroom. Mike worked out of town for work and this was my sanity saver!

Another reason to eat out-- aside from preserving the integrity of my area rug, is to teach my kids manners. I don't require them to sit still at Target, the grocery store, or the zoo, but I sure do in a restaurant. Our two restaurant rules are no yelling and you must stay in your seat. This is good practice for my loudmouth squirmers!

Lastly, we eat out because it's often easier. We live far from the places we run our errands so it is imperative that we can grab a quick bite. Otherwise I am unloading 3 hungry kids (one of whom is high maintenance and nursing), putting away groceries, and prepping food. Also, I cook every night during the week, and it is a legit operation. There is the thawing out of the meat and the chopping of the vegetables. Blah, blah, blah! It has been made known (through many dramatic declarations and a hungry husband) that I do not meal plan for the weekend. Every man for himself! Thankfully Mike is a whiz at the barbeque- movie reference?! -and grills for us at least one meal. Otherwise, off we go to our favorite restaurants!

If we stay in town, we fine dine at the local bar or Pizza Ranch. My fancy self likes to suggest running a family errand in Omaha knowing that it will coincide with meal time. Mike will inevitably say, "Well, we better grab something while we're out, huh?" To which I'll gasp and say, "Oh I didn't think of that. I guess we ought to. For the kids' sake."

Blessing the Cheesecake factory with our grace and good manners (and they usually ALL insist on being on the same side of the table as me. So. Much. Love. Mom. Feels. Suffocated.)
Here are my tips for eating out with kids! (and these are not sarcastic as was my grocery shopping post)

1. Know what you want ahead of time, look at the menu before you leave the house if possible! Start asking your kids in the car what they want to order.

2. The ban has been lifted! We allow our kids to have a sugary drink only when we're out to eat. This makes it special for them and captivates their attention for 5 minutes. They have learned to bypass their parents and ask the waitress directly for a refill, usually ending up with at least 3 cups of said drink so it may backfire with extra bathroom trips.

3. Order right away, when the waitress takes your drink orders. There is no time for chit chat! The goal of eating out with kids is to get everyone fed and limit the food casualties-- i.e. spilling drinks or dropping entire cheeseburgers on the floor. If you want to have a meaningful conversation, you're SOL. Unless you're at one of the restaurants with an i-pad or TV, than help the kids get zoned in on the screen and discuss away!

4. Ask for the check when the food arrives, just in case someone goes rogue on you. You can never know! We will linger as long as we can but better to have the ticket in hand when your toddler spills his drink on his sister and everyone is soaked and crying.

5. If you have an infant, keep them in carseat as long as possible.  If you're nursing, turn infant to face someone boobless so there is little hope of food. After feeding Archer in many restaurant bathrooms or sitting in the car, I started bringing a bottle with us to the restaurant and that helps buy us some time!

6. While waiting for food, engage your kids! Emmy and Mack are super into i-spy which cracks us up. Mack loves to say, "I spy something... ketchup bottle!" There's always the coloring but that can turn into a bar brawl over the crayon sharing. Mike has been teaching Emmy tic-tac-toe which by teaching I mean beating her at it repeatedly and acting like he's got mad skills. Um, she's four. One way I can keep them focused is by telling them outlandish stories. Just start blurting out things to your kids like, "Mack, yesterday I saw a raccoon running around the woods wearing your jammies" and they'll be all ready to sit still and have a conversation!

7. Call ahead if possible! When I take the kids out to lunch by myself, I love to go to Jason's Deli or Noodles and Co. They have gluten-free options, and you can call ahead. I'll call in our order 20 minutes before we get there, then head straight to the carry-out pick up register, grab our food, sit us down, and we've shaved time off our restaurant "experience" and can chow down immediately!

Some Chick-fil-locations have a "Mom's Valet" service where you can order through the drive-thru, then upon entering the restaurant they have all your food laid out at a table for you! I will never do this because I don't want my kids to know they have a play place, I'm cruel like that and prefer our drive-thru-then-spill-all-the-nuggest-in-the-car system.

8. Remain calm, until someone doesn't. I can always feel the glances when I walk into a restaurant by myself with 3 small children. I am sure some people are wondering when the other 3 adults are showing up. My first motto here (as in most things in life) is "fake it till you make it." I have learned that if I'm smiling, happy, and speaking kindly to my kids, they generally tend to return the favor. Notice I used the words "generally" and "tend" because this is not a perfect system and I would not have said the same thing when they were 2 and 3.

We all know what it's like to see a mother talk to her kids with disdain and frustration, it can be painful to watch. I only act that way to my kids on Fridays when I just can't handle it anymore. Wednesday and Thursdays too if it's the week of Daylight Savings Time. I try so hard to remember that they are just kids. They cannot always sit still or obey, I do not have high expectations. My goal is to survive, and get a few bites of food. While leaving the restaurant, I am usually bending over chugging my Diet Coke because I had forgotten to drink it while managing the people.

My second motto when out with my kids is "I do not negotiate with terrorists" so if someone freaks the freak out, we abruptly leave. There is no discussing or trying to be reasonable, I start to sweat, throw all food and the occasional restaurant utensil (here I am, stealing again) into my diaper bag and haul ass towards the nearest exit. It is okay to treat your toddlers like explosives so get that thing in the car before it detonates.

9. Go at low-traffic times. Getting to a restaurant for lunch right when it opens at 11 am is a good thing. We will even eat dinner with the early bird crowd at 4:30 pm because they are an older bunch and harder of hearing.

Archer's first lunch at Chick-fil-a! This was at 9:30 in the morning, they will make you french fries then if you ask! 
10. Save an incentive for the car. Every mom needs a good bribe stash in her purse! I like to save the post-check-time-frame (when you have given the waitress your credit card and are waiting for her to bring it back) to build up anticipation for the sucker they can get once we're back in the car. We also use this time to clean up all that we've spilled on the floor.

I have loved seeing how my kids have gotten better and better behaved in restaurants. Because of lots of practice, I can usually count on this to be a good experience for us. Hang in there mamas, even if your kid loses it, nobody else really cares because we have all been there. Find the nearest exit, take a deep breath, and try again next time. Or just stick to ordering pizza!

1 comment:

  1. what is your all time favorite place to eat?


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