When my son was first born, dining out was easy. Titan slept soundly in his car seat, while my husband and I enjoyed the restaurants we craved — Japanese hibachi, seafood and Mexican. We ate anywhere we wanted without a second thought. But as Titan got older, eating at the places we enjoyed diminished dramatically. Our choices revolved around kid-friendly restaurants. I'll be honest: I can only have Red Robin, IHOP and Olive Garden so many times.
Suddenly, my husband and I found ourselves avoiding going out to eat altogether. Which is how I became that mom who brings her child's dinner to a restaurant.
It began a few years ago, when my husband and I first built our dream house in Swansboro, North Carolina. The area is dotted with adorable locally owned restaurants up and down the downtown waterfront. Up to our eyeballs with french fries and burgers, we decided to stop into an Italian place named Trattoria's.
When the server came to take our order, I asked for a child's milk. "I'm sorry," she said, "we only have cream." Not a single sauce recipe called for an ounce of milk (or as my family calls it, gravy). Here were our choices: Leave and find another place, or run to the store and return with a few small milks.
We chose the latter.
But nothing on the menu came in a kid's portion, and nothing was served family style. I wanted calamari. My husband wanted mussels in a white wine sauce. Titan would only touch the baked ziti with meatballs. Surprise, surprise: He ate about seven bites of a massive adult plate. Save it for leftovers? That would be a good idea, if we all liked red sauce.
The bottom line is, it was a meal neither of us would have ordered in the first place.
"So much for trying new places," Eric said, disheartened.
When the next weekend arrived, he dared to ask if I wanted to go out again. "Olive Garden? IHOP? Red Robin? Outback?" Without realizing it, he was letting our son's palate dictate where we dined out as a family. It was habit. Again. And dear God, I was tired of it.
I want hibachi, I declared. Immediately, Eric suggested we call our babysitter to check her availability before making any further plans. But I wanted to bring Titan with us. I wanted to experience the places we enjoyed as a couple, as a family. And I was already thinking ahead to when our second son, Tristan, begins eating solid foods.
I don't want to be confined to restaurants where the hostess gives crayons with our utensils.
That night, I took our small insulated travel container and packed Ty's favorite in aluminum foil: grilled cheese. I added a travel milk (the same as we had to buy when we went to Trattoria's), pickles and apple slices. To me, it felt no different than, say, packing a balanced snack for t-ball practice. Go ahead, call me rude. Preach to me the foodie gospel, you should broaden your son's horizons and make him experience new foods, now.
I'll say the same thing I told my husband when he (at first) crinkled his brow towards my solution. Pick your poison: an irritated and vocal child with an empty stomach, or this?
I do realize that as Titan gets older he'll have to, well, suck it up. You won't spot me placating his picky eating when he's 12. But he's only 4. Dinner is not that serious right now. What is important is spending quality time together without being stressed out over the menu. And why should it bother others anyway? I'm not at their table unwrapping sandwiches and sides under their noses and over their plates.
At restaurants, I get a handful of stares, a few dirty looks. But here's the reality: That first time, Ty sat sweetly, respectfully, and ate every bite. And Mom and Dad? We indulged in a meal taken for granted during our dating years. I was even able to slip bite of shrimp dipped in tangy white sauce into Titan's little mouth. There was no anxiety, no yelling EAT THIS OR GO WITHOUT! More than that, there was no pressure. Titan tried it on his own terms and then chose to go back to his beloved sandwich. In our own way, I am teaching him new food can be good.
Together, we created a new pleasant memory with food we adore.
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