Between busy schedules, noisy kids, diet restrictions, school pickups and work, planning a simple lunch out with friends can require more coordination than Angelina Jolie holding a G8 summit. For something that’s supposed to make our lives simpler, sometimes eating out is crazy complicated. But it’s important to me to find time to connect with my girls and so even though it sometimes goes awry, I still try. So the other day a group of us met up at Panera for a little girl time. It was less Ladies Who Lunch and more Sisters Who Snack (between running after kids, talking and laughing).
“Wow. Well that’s good birth control,” the young man dryly observed as he watched my friends and I herd our kids into the other day. The scene was, admittedly, a little rowdy – we had four babies amongst us and all of them were trying to bolt in different directions – but I just had to laugh. The joke was on him because between the four of us, we actually have 16 kiddos so if he thought four nominally mobile toddlers were bad, he should buy stock in Trojan. (Sometimes I swear the purpose of my life is to convince teens not to have sex. Some moms make motherhood look as effortlessly adorable as a Pottery Barn ad. Me? I make it look every bit as gory, gross and difficult as it is. Sometimes worse (I’m dramatic). Seriously, they should have me tour health classes.)
Thankfully all (lie: most) of the ruckus settled down as soon as we got our food. Delicious mac & cheese and yogurt tubes are the best baby muzzles! Because nowhere is your parenting more on display than at a public place like a restaurant. Taking children out to eat is a fraught endeavor. You sweat bullets trying to keep everyone happy, quiet and not throwing food or announcing the state of their bowels and at best nothing goes wrong. At worst… well, we’ve all seen how that goes down. And I do mean “down” literally. Food, drinks, toys, child, even sometimes the parent ends up on the floor. I know that many people think kids and restaurants go together like black socks and sandals, yet eating politely in a public place is one of those life skills kids need to learn. And that takes practice.
The first rule of dining out with kids is to pick the right establishment. My husband and I aren’t the type to take our young bunch to a 4-star restaurant with five courses over three hours. But we also don’t want to spend all our evenings eating off plastic trays in play places. So we’ve learned to find family friendly places and then make sure we’re watching our kids. It’s not a perfect solution – there was that one time our son crawled away under the table and we didn’t realize he was missing until he surfaced three tables down and asked a couple for a roll from their breadbasket. (At least he said please?) – but it usually works.
The second rule is to pick somewhere that has something everyone wants to eat – and I’ve discovered that grown-ups can be just as particular as kids. That is exactly why my family and my girlfriends and I so often choose Panera for our lunch dates. There are plenty of kid-friendly options (thankfully none of which include hamburgers or fries) but also plenty of tasty and healthy fare for grownups, especially because all of us have different dietary needs and likes. At any given time someone is vegetarian while someone else is doing paleo. Or someone has PMS cravings while someone else has pregnancy food aversions. One of my friends can’t have gluten, another is avoiding sugar and I can’t eat dairy. (Well, I can but no one will want to sit next to me if I do.) It’s tricky finding a place where all of us can feel comfortable eating! Especially when preschool only lasts two hours and so there’s no time to play the endless “What do you want to eat?” “I don’t know, what are you feeling?” game.
Thanks to their wide variety and healthy options, I’ve been there so much I practically have their menu memorized. Yet I hardly ever order the same thing. One of my pet peeves about casual restaurants is the lack of quality protein options. When you look at the nutritional info, thanks to sauces and dressings, the entrees often have just as much fat and sugar as they do protein. And while I have nothing against fat or sugar sometimes, if I’m scheduling a mid-afternoon crash I’d prefer it to be prefaced by a butterscotch brownie and not my salad. So this time I got a bowl of Turkey Chili with their Spinach Salad. It was delish and filling and I didn’t get the sugar shakes at 4 p.m.
And now Panera wants to know what your favorite menu item is! You can vote for one of their 5 fan favorites or submit your own favorite – MyPanera members get a chance to win their favorite free for a year! The 5 fan favorites selected for the voting feature are: The Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, Mac & Cheese, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Cinnamon Crunch Bagel and Bacon Turkey Bravo. You can also check out Panera’s weekly challenges and share your favorite on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, using #PaneraFaves, for a chance to win weekly Panera gift card giveaways.
Come back here and leave me a comment telling me your fave pick and be entered to a $100 Panera Bread gift card, just for GFE readers! What’s the strangest thing anyone’s ever said to you at a restaurant? Any other tips for dining out with kids?
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This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 2/26/2014-3/30/2014.
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