Seven Tips for Dining Out as a Family

The first meal out for our family after having a baby was sushi. Our newborn slept in her car seat and I gorged on the fish that had been banned from my diet during pregnancy. It was bliss for everyone. Our last venture to that same sushi bar (last month) was a bit more raucous, with the girls not so quiet now. But they sat at the bar, ordered their favourite sashimi, and flirted with the host who gave them candy.

We can't imagine our lives without the opportunity to take the kids out for dinner. If we didn't take them we might not go ourselves with limited babysitting in town! But if you want to take your kids to a restaurant, whether it involves a giant golden M or serves fois gras, there are some basic guidelines. These are guidelines for parents, not rules for kids.

1. Start at Home
If you want your kid to sit at the table, eat, and not run around and scream at a restaurant table then you need to expect that behaviour at home as well. I know many a parent who struggles to keep their kids at the table, regardless of where they are sitting. While I can't provide any tips for getting them to stay in their seat - other than expecting the behaviour and enforcing it - if your kid can't sit at the table for 20 minutes then a sit down restaurant isn't going to be a successful venture for you.

2. Revise Your Dinner Expectations
When you take your kids out to dinner with you then your experience will not be that same as dinner out with your partner. There is no lingering over dessert, conversations are not usually about politics or money, and you will likely eat pretty fast. Dinner out with the family isn't romantic, but it can be fun. Keep your expectations in check, as well as your timing.

3. It's all in the Timing
Knowing when your kids need to eat and when they'll crash is important if you choose to eat out. Don't arrive at the restaurant at 6 if they are used to dinner on the table at that time. Be prepared to order an appetizer or the entire meal when they come by to take a drink order. And ask for the check right after your meal is served in case you need to make a speedy exit.

4. Choose Wisely
There is no need to limit your family meals out to fast food or even chain restaurants. Steakhouses, greasy spoons, and yes, fine dining are all acceptable. Do not take your kids to the best place in town if all they've ever eat are chicken fingers, you need to work up to that. Consider going to a nicer restaurant on a weekday, not on typical date nights on the weekend. Preview menus on-line or with a drive by to ensure there is something your kids will likely enjoy. Try brunch instead of dinner, it's faster, more likely to have preferred options, and is a more casual environment - even in a fancier restaurant.

5. The Art of Conversation
I'm not a fan of bringing toys and such to the restaurant, but I can see the benefit for other families. A run of the mill restaurant will sometimes provide the menu that can be coloured, or you could bring your own colouring book. Books, a small doll, a random car, or even an electronic device might also be effective in occupying your kids while you wait for food. It should go away when the food arrives though. We take the time in a restaurant to have a conversation - as effective as that is with a 3 and 5 year old. I also don't want to set the precedent that toys are commonplace when you go out for dinner. Each family will have to decide what is appropriate.

6. Lose the Kids Menu
Even the fanciest of restaurants sometimes have a kids menu. Ignore it. It may be fine dining, but they are often dumbing down the food in addition to smaller portion sizes. Instead, look to the appetizer or soup/salad portion of the menu. Alternatively, you can order one main course and split it among two or three children. Do not relegate your kids to a diet of chicken fingers or grilled cheese sandwiches. Or at least, save those for the nights you stay home when you don't feel like cooking.

7. Be Prepared to Leave
Yup, be prepared to get up and walk out without dinner. If your kids are misbehaving, whining, or generally being bad or disruptive, be prepared to leave without eating. Aside from showing restauranteurs and other patrons that you have control over the situation, you are also showing your kids that certain behaviour is not tolerated. Whether you let them eat dinner at home after that is another matter. (I would not, but that's me.) If you want your restaurant experience to be successful and repeated, then you need to set the precedent.

On the recent debate on Q, with Jian Gomeshi, Emma Waverman, and Simon Majumdar, the host and guests talked about a ban on kids in restaurants. While I squarely believe in the comments made by Waverman, it was this quote from Majumdar that sums it up. Restaurants want to ban kids, primarily because of crying and bad behaviour, and that "Boils down to wretched parenting."

If you want to take your kids out of the house - and we all need to at times - then you need to step up to the plate, plan ahead, and be clear on your behavioural expectations with them. A restaurant isn't always a break at dinnertime, don't treat it that way unless the kids are at home with the babysitter. Dinner out with the family is an opportunity for exploration, conversation, and treats.

Can I Take a Sick Day?

Just like Christmas parties, moms don't get sick days either.

All four of us have been fighting colds for the past week. I am totally blaming Hubby because he had it first. And, of course, when he was sick I was the happy housewife - keeping the kids quiet in the evenings and making him chicken noodle soup - from scratch. Yeah, and this week we've eaten crap from a package (fish sticks anyone?) or pre-made food because I am too exhausted to cook and Hubby isn't volunteering to cook. Not good fodder for a food blog either.
So today I am resting, sipping some wonderful tea from Murchies and nibbling on a new addiction - freeze dried raspberries dipped in dark chocolate from Dufflet. Oh, and I still don't have my new camera. Hopefully the pics I took on our last sick day before Christmas when the Norwalk virus hit us will tide you over for a few more days.

In the meantime, I thought I would share with you a few new (at least to me) local places for foodies in Calgary. My mother-in-law was in town so we convinced the Monster that an adventure was a good idea. And adventure it was. I really forget how big the city is getting.
We made the trek to Blush Lane's new retail operation - way, way West in the city. It was a nice store with an easy layout. As far as grocery items go there was little difference between them and the Planet Organic that I can walk to. But they do carry far more in the way of dairy and meat (Sunworks Farm) than my local place. And, they have a wonderful cheese selection with reasonable prices. My mother-in-law and I were ecstatic to see products from Gort's Gouda cheese farm, one of our favourite products and places to visit in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
I won't be making the trek out to Blush Lane Organic Market too often. We go to the Calgary Farmers' Market every weekend and they are a regular stop for us. Besides, I'm not sure how good it is to drive halfway across the city for products I can get closer to home. Cheese, however, will be the exception. When I have a craving for that salty and nutty Maasdammer I will brave Calgary traffic and drive to Blush Lane. It beats the seven hours to Salmon Arm!
On our way we stopped at another new foodie jewel - Fresh Kitchen. There isn't much in the way of grocery items at Fresh Kitchen, but there is some very yummy food. They carry serrano ham - something I now like better than proscuitto parma - along with a decent selection of meats and cheeses. What I was really impressed with was the fresh meals-to-go options. From salad dressings to fish, from soups to muffins, they had it all. Curry was obviously on the menu that night and the place smelled wonderful. Fresh Kitchen is owned by a very friendly man, Paul Morrissette, who had no problem with the Monster running around and grabbing things just to show me. He seemed generous of spirit and taste. Because I knew Hubby wouldn't be making me soup I did grab some forest mushroom and truffle soup. Soup with serrano ham and maasdammer on the side? It was enough to make a sick girl swoon. Or maybe that was the fever?

It All Started With Some Vindaloo

The Monster was not quite a year old. At that point we were still eating separate meals from her. She ate, and then we ate. That night she'd eaten her dinner of finger foods and we sat down on the couch to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eat our dinner. Lamb vindaloo was on the menu. No, I didn't make it from scratch. It was probably a spice mix, but it filled our tummies well. We were happily eating and the Monster kept climbing over us. It was exasperating. We thought she was just seeking our attention (and rightly so). Then we noticed that she was reaching for our forks.

"Do you think she wants our food?" Hubby questioned.

"Let her try it and we'll see," I responded, fearful that the first bite would cause heartburn, nausea, and the dreaded tears of baby barf.

Famous last words. She ate half my plate that night. And she hasn't stopped.

On this blog I will document our food adventures, through her eyes, mine, and those of our new daughter as she begins to explore food beyond her Mama's boob in a few months. We'll visit local and regional producers and foodie haunts. We'll explore the ethnic grocers and bakers and festivals. And we'll eat. Boy will we eat.

On the topic of Indian food, I want to share a local source for Indian take-out and spices. I first found Shef's Fiery Kitchen at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmers' Market here in Calgary. She's now moved to the Calgary Farmers' Market, our Sunday morning hang-out. The menu changes for fresh food, but a mango lassi can always be found. While the lassi is always a hit with the Monster, we often order some of the frozen meals. Before our second was born these were great on a weeknight with some basmati and roasted veg. Who am I kidding? It is still good a weeknight meal as I try to feed the family with a newborn demanding my attention. And she still devours the vindaloo, the butter chicken, the kuka pakka, and the palak gosht.


Shef's Fiery Kitchen

Calgary Farmers' Market