One of our favorite family outings is going out to eat. We've been taking our sons to restaurants since they were still in fetal position in their infant seats. The boys are six and four now and get a kick out of going to restaurants. It's our time to chill out and be waited on, which as you parents know, is a real joy. Mac Daddy and I enjoy an adult beverage while the boys get a lemonade treat.
The key to making our restaurant outings hassle-free and tantrum-free are what I call the 2 Cs: Crayons and Conversation.
I carry crayons and a small notebook in my purse. Coloring is quiet, and quite cathartic if I say so myself. Bird, my first grader, likes to do word games or draw while Deal scribbles and makes up maps for his adventures. Don't underestimate the power of Crayola. Yup, I'm loyal to the brand.
As for the second C, the beauty of sitting around a table to enjoy a meal with your family is the perfect backdrop for conversation. Turn off the gadgets, folks, and talk. To each other. No DS or Leapster at the table. Put away the iPhone games. BlackBerrys set to mute. And definitely no television. This is our rule at meal time, period, in a restaurant or otherwise.
A great jumpstart to conversation is what we call our Thank Yous. We each take a moment before we eat to share something we are thankful for from the day. Sometimes it's as simple as playing with the dog or as poignant as Daddy being home after many days on the road to read before bed. We all rush through our days, our meals, our together time. A little conversation over a good meal helps slow us down. As the boys get older, and presumably stop sharing their lives so openly, we'll always have our Thank Yous to spark dinner talk.
Some of our favorite restaurants where we indulge in goodies we don't get at home and practice our table manners, polite conversation, and generous tipping:
Cinellis: Bird orders the mussels every time. Deal loves to play with the pizza dough they bring out to kids while they wait.
Rue Cler: The boys share duck crepes, and I over indulge in beignets and espresso.
Village Draft House: Two words: Fried Pickles.
Sushi Thai: This family can devour some sushi. I don't think Bird and Deal realize it's raw fish yet, and we're not telling them. Also, edamame is excellent finger food, sure to bring on some giggles.
Neomonde: Two sampler platters aren't enough to share anymore. We all want our own serving of baba ghanouj and chickpea salad.
Mama Dips: This is real indulgence. Fried green tomatoes. Hush puppies. Sweet potato pancakes. We walk it off along Franklin Street.
Kanki: Yeah, it's a sodium fest chain restaurant, but once in a blue moon, it's a real treat. As long as my sons don't try those knife antics at home.
So when you need a break from the kitchen, grab an 8-pack of Crayolas, a notepad, and your best talking points. When you're enjoying a meal out and get kitchen duty reprieve, a little less conversation is not what it's all about. Get your chat on. Making the most of family meal time is an art.
Ilina, mom of two, writes about food here on Go Ask Mom every Wednesday. You can always find her at her own blog Dirt & Noise.