SOCIETY: Dining Out With the Kids Again? You’re Not Alone


One of the first and perhaps most relatable posts on this blog has been “How to Dine Out With Kids.” It’s one of those perennial favourites that parents search for and seek out because it’s an area in life where they need a lot of support. Let’s face it: trying to have something of a life outside the craziness and hectic pace of raising kids – especially the younger ones – is a challenge, to say the least.

Dining out with kids,” however, has taken on a new meaning in these current times where parents are harried, kids are hurried and everyone’s hungry. I can vouch for this myself when I say that these three factors, in addition to simple laziness – have resulted in what is becoming more of the norm than the exception: families eating out more often than not.

When I was a kid, eating at a restaurant was a big deal. I mean a really big deal. We did it rarely – say once or twice a year, and there was always a reason: a birthday, a christening, a parent’s job promotion. Never was it done simply for the sake of or dad being too tired or lazy to cook, or because of the convenience.

Heavens, no. That just wasn’t done. Real parents, you see, prepared a proper home-cooked meal for the family, of course. This was the primary reason, based on societal norms, that we ate 99 per cent of our meals at home.

Sure – there were financial factors that made dining out more of a challenge, but there was also a different cultural expectation at play as well. Eating a meal, or meals, in the family home, was something that was cherished and desired as the standard proof that a family was intact. Sunday night dinners, in particular, everyone was required at the table; Monday through Saturday – the same expectation prevailed, wherever possible, though the menu may have been less fancy.

Now – can you honestly say that family meals have the same weight that they used to? I know that I cant, sadly.

Harried, hurried and hungry – What’s a parent to do?

Not only has there been a shift in cultural norms in terms of where, when and how often families eat their meals, but there has also been a move towards a more frenetic and busy lifestyle as well. For many reasons including economic, changes to family dynamics and less time (often due to busy parents working and juggling responsibilities), dinnertime has been moved from the family dining room to the local diner (or dining hall, depending on your preference and budget). Let’s face it: in many instances it’s so much easier, after a long and stressful day at work, to do one of the following:

a) Order a pizza and call it a day

b) Forage through the remnants of dinners past that exist in the fridge; some in better states of edibility than others

c) Eat out

It’s this last option that we’re choosing more frequently it seems, and I have to wonder if this is a good thing.

According to a recent survey, 34 per cent of kids eat out every day – with or without their parents. So in other words, kids are eating meals prepared by others, often fast food, often enough as it is. The Millennial set, on the whole, has grown up eating at restaurants more often than their predecessors with the expectation that home – cooked meals are occasional events, to say the least.

We’re eating out more than ever and I have to wonder if this really is a good thing

My kids have visited more restaurants in their short lives than I ever did in the first 30-odd years of my life. Seriously.

“Mommy, I feel like having sushi tonight.”

“How about Thai? Pad Thai and mango salad would hit the spot!”

“I love shawarma! Can we get a falafel and tabouli salad too?”

Not only is eating out de rigeur in our household, but eating a global menu is high on the agenda as well (this might be because we live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but that’s another story). My kids span the globe with their culinary tastes, which remain equitably in check with their more pedestrian loves. Sure – they love a good, old-fashioned hamburger more frequently than not and heck – many days, they’re living large and eating meatballs at IKEA, no less.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that they’re eating out – frequently.

They’re living large and eating well, but just not at home.

There are likely a number of reasons for the rise in parents dining out with their kids more often. As a parent who is guilty of relinquishing meal responsibility to outside forces more often than I’d like to admit, I’d say that the most pressing reason that we’re eating out with our kids a lot is this: exhaustion.

When we suddenly have a deadline during the time allocated to prepare breakfast, lunch or dinner, guess what’s going to be put on the back-burner – literally?

Yes, we’re tired. Really tired. Now while I would never propose that parental exhaustion is a new phenomenon (it isn’t), I will venture to say that the level of fatigue is at an all-time high. Reasons are numerous, but let’s blame the primary culprits: The Internet, the inability to “turn-off” and the inevitable lack of work-life balance that are the inevitable results of the first two reasons.

Think about it: do you ever really “turn off?” I know I don’t. A middle of the night bathroom call often doubles as an opportunity to check the iPhone. Don’t tell me you haven’t scrolled through your newsfeed or checked your email in the dark at 4am. I have. I’ve also checked Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the dead of night and wee hours of the early morning. Isn’t that what smartphones are for, after all?

That’s the problem – we’re “on” more than we’re off, and it’s affecting every aspect of our lives. When work doesn’t end at the company door and seeps in through the ether and other digital means, our lives get affected. When we suddenly have a deadline during the time allocated to prepare breakfast, lunch or dinner, guess what’s going to be put on the back-burner – literally?

And so, we venture out to take the pressure off of ourselves, as much as we can. Hello “kids eat free” and all of its varied permutations.

While I’d like to say that this this trend is on its way out, let’s face it – it’s not. If anything, our harried lives and frazzled selves will be clamouring for more help in the form of meal support, mainly restaurants and someone else doing the heavy lifting.

So there it is and here we sit, perhaps wondering yet again what to make for dinner. The writing is on the wall and the choices are inside the menu at your favourite family restaurant. “We’ll take over the ‘heavy lifting’ for you because life’s just become too darn busy,” so pull up a seat, take a load off and let someone else take over the cooking burden tonight.

VIDEO: How to Dine Out With Kids

Canada AM – How to Dine Out With Kids

Multiple Mayhem Mamma blogger Samantha Kemp-Jackson discusses tips and strategies for dining out with kids at restaurants.

CH Morning Live – Tips For Dining Out With Small Children

Multiple Mayhem Mamma blogger Samantha Kemp-Jackson provides tips and strategies for parents who want to dine out at restaurants with their small children

Parenting Then and Now Podcast

John Catucci grew up in an Italian household where food was an important part of family life. As a first-generation Italian-Canadian, John’s love of food started in the kitchen, with his father, who taught him the ins and outs of a good home-cooked, Italian meal.

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