No More Going Out to Eat
When treats are no longer treats
It started out simple enough. I was pregnant and tired. And yes, getting lunch for a picky 2-year-old was a little much for me to handle at the time. I know, first-world problems. But the result was that I ended up taking my daughter out to lunch a lot more than I ever intended to. Once the baby was born, I relished the chance to get out of the house and meet friends. Often, especially in our frigid Midwestern winter, this meant meeting for lunch at a mall, our local indoor market or a restaurant with a play place. In my mind, it was supposed to be a special treat, a chance to meet friends and play, but what it’s ended up to be is a colossal waste of money.
I grew up one of eight children. Going out to eat was a very special treat. My siblings and I were often so excited to go out that we were on astonishingly good behavior. Going out to eat meant we might get soda or chocolate milk. Going out to eat meant we could pick the food we wanted. It meant french fries.
We would sit there playing a patient game of “I Spy” while we swing our legs against the sticky vinyl of the booth. Mom and dad would smile and my sister would play “Hangman” with me on our napkins. We’d slurp up sweet orange soda and bite down on hot crispy french fries—foods we never had at home because my mom made everything, even our bread and yogurt. Our milk was bought straight from the cow and our peanut butter was all natural and only sweetened with just a bit of honey. If we didn’t finish our food, we had to share with a younger sibling the next time we went out so we didn’t waste anything. My dad always remembered.
No matter how old I am. No matter how many restaurants I’ve been to. The idea of going out to eat always thrills that child in me. And I mistakenly believed my daughter was thrilled too. It soon became apparent, she wasn’t. She didn’t care about the food. She hated the loud play places. Even at our local indoor market, where we sampled a variety of foods and fresh juices, she barely batted an eye. Asking for nothing more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, from home. She was a restaurant-weary toddler and it was all my fault. I had made going out to eat something mundane.
Two months ago, I had enough of the waste and her blase attitude. If all she wanted was peanut butter and jelly, than going out to eat was just for me and it wasn’t doing my waistline any favors. So, I put a moratorium on going out. I made a grand speech to my husband about how I was done taking our children places where they barely even ate the food. It was over. I steeled myself for a confrontation, but I should have known better. My daughter didn’t care.
Once she asked me for french fries. I told her, “No, that’s not how we are spending our money today.” Then, she asked me where rain came from. It was very anti-climatic.
Now we pack our lunch everywhere we go and suggest meeting other places besides restaurants. I sometimes make the meal special by buying Mickey Mouse shaped cheese, or cutting her sandwich like a castle. She loves it when I buy pre-packaged squeezed applesauce, I don’t do it often because why spend the money when I can just put the applesauce in a Tupperware? (I know, I’m Midwestern.)
We went out to eat for the first time in two months just a week ago. And the difference was night and day. For her, the trip was special. She ate all of her food and even mustered up enough courage to play in the play place for a little while, before the other kids started screaming and it hurt her ears (I don’t blame her). Maybe the difference is that she’s a bit older. Or maybe the difference is that this time, it was actually a special treat.
I’m not perfect. When I feel overwhelmed cooking is the first thing I slack on. But I hope to stick to my guns on this going out to eat thing, not only for the money savings, and the lessons about healthy eating, but because I want my treats to actually feel like treats.
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