• I have three kids, aged 9, 7 and 4. 
  • We still go out for meals, despite how hard it is to be out with them eating a meal. 
  • The connection we get with them during those meals outweigh the chaos. 

Going to restaurants with our three kids — ages 9, 7, and 4 — is usually a lesson in extreme patience.

There is always inevitably spilled ice water or juice (sometimes directly onto my lap). There is often some arguing among siblings. There is probably some contention over what to order — and why it's taking "so long" to arrive. And it's just really hard for our kids to stay still at the table.

But there are a few things that are different from home and make the effort worth it — the most obvious being that we don't have to cook or clean up after them.

We get to connect as a family

They also get a chance to practice important social skills, like politely ordering what they'd like, being respectful of fellow restaurantgoers' experiences, noticing and appreciating the wait staff's hard work, and saying thank you.

The most important part of all though, is the connection time we get. At home, we make an effort to do family meals together, but so often, it doesn't go the way we hoped. Instead of having connection time, we end up becoming the server of our kids' own personal restaurant — getting them another drink or making a sandwich for them when they hate the meal.

Our tiny table means the kids can too easily bug each other, so we also end up breaking up fights most nights. But at a restaurant, someone else is doing the serving, cooking, and cleaning, and we get to do the fun parts: talking about our day, playing cards at the table while we wait, and encouraging them to try a fun new dessert.

We choose where to go with our kids in mind

Despite the hard stuff, the good parts make it worth it. And even the hard parts can be made easier by choosing our location wisely. Breweries, wineries, and cider places are surprisingly great fits for kids. They often have a casual atmosphere and backyards (which means space for kids to run around).

Our local cider place in warmer weather has a huge field where we can fly a kite, kick a ball around, and just generally get our wiggles out as a family before settling down to enjoy the meal together. This is a huge contrast to home, where we are frantically trying to get a meal on the table that suits everyone's tastes and meets basic nutritional requirements. The grownups in the family arrive at the table stressed out, and the kids arrive at the table asking what's for dinner and often complaining that it's not their favorite option.

I'd be ignoring the major privilege in this if I didn't point out that we are lucky to be able to dine out as a family sometimes. Most of the time, we budget and cook our meals at home — for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We often opt to save money by limiting packaged snacks and making muffins and cookies from scratch so it's cheaper and lasts longer as well. We're not able to dine out as frequently as we might like, but maybe that's why we appreciate it all the more when we do get to dine out as a family.

It may be difficult to keep the kids on their best restaurant behavior (and I may leave with juice spilled on my clothes), but ultimately, it's worth it. Everyone gets to order what they want — even if that's just fries and dessert. We all get to enjoy each other's company. And the adults get to have a meal they really love that they didn't have to cook. Then, we get to walk away together as a family, feeling a little bit more connected — and without washing a single dish.

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