For many families, going out to eat is a regular occurrence. For others, a rarity. Regardless of which category you fall into, dining out has become big business and it is growing rapidly.
Contrary to what our parents, grandparents and others may believe, eating out has its benefits.
Dining out still carries a negative connotation, especially among some of our elders, who toss around insults about families that “eat out all of the time’ or parents who “never cook”.
These insults are designed to address laziness, lack of proper nutrition and the perceived financial detriments of going to restaurants. They argue that is simply too expensive to dine out.
While it is entirely possible to dine out on a budget and eat healthy, the benefits also extend to other areas of life.
The importance of sitting at the table as a family for mealtime cannot be overlooked and it is appealing for a variety of reasons, especially in today’s chaotic and fast-paced environment.
“Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.”amil – Irish Proverb
As our children get older and our lives add more layers, eating together gets increasingly harder and getting everyone to sit and eat at the table is no easy task.
And I know that from experience. With one child playing Xbox and one on YouTube, ignoring the calls for mealtime can be a common event.
After all, we come home from work, tired, possibly irritable, and we do not feel like going to war with our children who are quietly entertaining themselves.
Be a parent, right? Force them to come in there, sit at the table and discuss their day as you sit and eat in peace, with nobody in a hurry to get up. What planet are you living on?
If your mealtimes resemble that model family, I commend you. Either you are doing something exactly right, you are living right, or you are blessed with exceptionally mindful children. You are already reaping the benefits so keep up the good work.
But for those of us who struggle to find the time or the strength to bring everyone together, planning a family night once a week assures us of having that one sit down meal together as a family, along with various side benefits that accompany the family time.
1.Family Time. The primary benefit of eating out, family time. The idea of the entire family sitting down for a meal together may take some getting used to and may even be uncomfortable initially. Eventually, though, the potential is there to create an event that is looked forward to, enjoyable and a bonding experience for the entire family.
Sure, dining out is not without obstacles, such as restaurants with video games or myriads of televisions, but with proper planning and rules, even those distractions can be overcome.
And no letting your kids sit at their own table. Yes, the peace and quiet may be nice, but that defeats the purpose of dining out as a family.
Eating together strengthens the family unit and, as parents, allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of our children’s interests, friends and overall well-being.
Regardless of the busyness of your family schedule, you can be assured that your family will eat together at least one time each week.
2. Weekly Specials. Many restaurants offer weekly specials, ranging from deals on adult entrees to kid’s meals, which fit most family budgets. Moe’s, for example, offers a Moe Monday deal for adults along with a kid’s eat free night. Other eateries follow suit with some offering free or reduced kid’s meals twice per week.
These are merely suggestions for stretching your budget. If you have the means to eat elsewhere or if the thought of going to another “kids eat free” night sends you running for the Lexapro, I completely understand.
Weekly specials may also provide an opportunity to try new restaurants or foods that normally exceed your budget.
3. No Dishes to Clean Up. Perhaps the idea of not having to prepare, cook or serve dinner or clean up afterward is just as appealing as strengthening your family unit. Dining out provides a night off for those of you for those of you who do it all, cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids. This one is for you.
4. Manners. Mealtime, especially when dining out, is an ideal time to teach and reinforce the importance of good manners.
Many opportunities arise at a restaurant, such as communication with the server and other staff and social skills. Also included are modern manners, such as appropriate use of technology, i.e., not texting, talking or scrolling through Instagram while your server is attempting to take your order.
5. Nutrition. Educating your children by discussing healthy choices and the benefits of proper nutrition, prepares them for the future and reduces the possibility of obesity.
Lately, more restaurants are including nutritional information on their menu while others offer healthy choices and side items, providing an alternative to the standard chicken fingers and fries or cheese pizza.
6. Something Special for Kids to Look Forward to. If you already eat out frequently, like many families, this benefit may take some creativity.
Involving your kids by allowing them to choose from an approved list of restaurants is one option. By letting them take turns choosing each week you are making them feel special and showing them that family night is not just another dining experience.
As a father of a nine and twelve year old, I realize the dangerous of allowing them to choose. But let them own their decision. Allowing them to take turns should settle any squabbles that may arise and they will look forward to their special night.
7. Something Special for Parents to Look Forward to. A once a week family night should appeal to parents who are looking for a way to get closer to their children, combining the benefits of dining together, not having to cook or clean up and the excitement of a new family tradition.
The mere thought of watching your children buying into your new tradition and anticipating that special family time each week is enough to make your heart smile.
Limiting distractions and interruptions during your meal is a crucial aspect of having a meaningful family night out. Electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, are the primary culprits, but anything that takes away from conversation and personal interaction should be limited, if not prohibited altogether.
Establishing these rules up front will cause less friction at mealtime.
Setting time limits also promotes your family time. For example, some families may allow phone usage before the food arrives or after the meal is finished. When the server arrives, however, phones and tablets go away immediately.
And while most dining experiences vary, setting a minimum limit of fifteen minutes of undivided family time ensures the proper amount of attention will be paid. No slamming down your food to race off, zone out or bury your nose in your IPhone. Once the conversation and laughs start flowing, the time limit will become a distant memory.
Researchers suggest eating dinner as a family at least five times per week. Their logic is sound and not easily argued against.
However, with sports, after school activities, meetings and any number of nightly engagements, eating together one time per week can be as challenging as five times.
If your life resembles this scenario, start small. But just start. Begin planning your first restaurant family night now. It may take some work and sacrifice, but it will be worth it and your family will be stronger as a result.