The Joys Of Dining Out On A School Night

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 09, 2009
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If there’s one exceptional thing that’s come out of this dismal economy it’s surely the fact that we can eat out at some extraordinary places for a fraction of the price. To combat a slow summer, rising restaurant costs and falling customer visits, many local restaurants have put together menus designed to attract those watching their budget. Prices in some restaurants are so reasonable right now that you could never replicate the quality of the food at home. Add in time spent shopping and cleaning up, and you’re way better off eating out at a favorite neighborhood spot, and I’m betting that you’re saving money by eating out.

During weeks when school’s in session and football season is upon us, our house is sometimes little more than a center where people meet in between schedules (and yes, I’m including our 4-year-old and 6-year-old boys). Some days getting dinner on the table and enjoying the process can be a challenge. I love to cook, love to shop, love to prepare any number of complicated ingredients, but it just does-n’t seem practical every night of the week. And before the Martha Stewarts among you run to send e-mails, yes, I do cook on the weekends and freeze meals for just such occasions, but that still doesn’t eliminate setting the table, cleaning up and the general (sometime) chaos of family mealtimes.

What I’ve noticed is,when our family takes a midweek break and heads out to a restaurant for an early meal, there’s a de-stressing that takes place and an increased level of communication. On the car journey to the restaurant we tell stories or play question-and answer games that the boys love. In the restaurant, while waiting to be served, there’s enough time to read a story, share a coloring page, talk about school.

Family-orientated restaurants like Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, Big City Diner, Sam Choy’s (on Tuesday nights when kids’meals are half off) and Murphy’s are just a few that offer great-value dining. You’ll be amazed at all the early dining specials and “kids eat free” offers.

Sometimes trying to be a super parent and cooking every meal is neither practical nor smart. If you’re the cook in your home, give yourself a break. Choose a neighborhood restaurant to support and make it your regular midweek dining haunt. And if you feel guilty about going out on a school night, then here’s the answer to your guilt trip:A restaurant experience for kids is all about learning. There’s math (calculating the cost of the meal and the tip), reading (choosing menu items), social skills (ordering politely, requesting items from wait staff, sitting still - sorry, I always seem to end up shouting that word), etiquette (learning to use a knife and fork, saying “please” and “thank you”), geography (where do different dishes originate, what kind of food do kids eat for dinner in China?), science (how is wine made, how does bread rise?), health education (why aren’t fries and chicken nuggets good to eat every night?) and even local agriculture awareness (are these fruits and veggies grown in Hawaii?).

Oh, OK, maybe all you really want to do is go out and grab a burger - but you get the point.

Happy eating!

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