We eat out too much. I freely admit to that – and I also know why. I’m frequently drained and the idea of someone else fixing 5 different meals at the same time for my family is enticing. Still, eating out is way more complicated than it should be, thanks to Sensory Processing Disorder.
People truly don’t understand sensory issues. They see a picky kid and assume that it’s a parenting issue. “Just make him eat it,” they urge. “If he gets hungry enough he’ll eat.” I’ve heard it all, and I smile and nod and ignore them. If I try to make my kids eat something they’ll puke. And they’ll cheerfully starve themselves to avoid a problem food.
For a very long time, the solution to our SPD issues was doing take-out, or going to one lone restaurant. When the Engineer was little, their chicken nuggets were the only protein he would eat. Later, when the Destroyer came along, it was the same deal: 1 lone source of protein. We ate a lot of chicken nuggets over the years, enough to make both my husband and I feel rather unenthusiastic about the place.
At the grand old age of 7, the Engineer is finally eating more “stuff.” Mostly the bad stuff – like pizza, all things fried, and anything sweet he can get his hands on. The Princess is picky but a ravening carnivore. For the Destroyer – SPD still rules, limiting his foods to less than 10 on a good day.
Limited menu choices
One of the main problems we have is that most children’s menus in restaurants around here are astoundingly similar: pizza, burger, grilled cheese, pasta. With a side of grapes, fries, or mandarin oranges. Which is great if your child loves pizza, like the Engineer. Not so great if the noodles have to be the right shape and the sauce has to be the precise color, like the Destroyer’s requirements. It’s frustrating!
I won’t even go into the subtle techniques of discouraging families (I’m looking at you, Olive Garden!) SPD can complicate dining out in more ways than just the food – which means we pick low-traffic times to eat and bring suitable distractions. I always want to laugh when people give us nasty looks for pulling out the tablets when we have to wait. Do they really want to know what it’s like without tablets? Torture!
Our current solution to the SPD complication is a buffet restaurant. People around here consider them low-brow – and are too snobby to go (or admit it, one or the other.) The food is considered less appetizing or less safe. Only “poor” people go to buffets so that they can stuff themselves – according to the snobs in my area. Pfft!
The food isn’t cooked to order, so what? It’s just as clean as a fancier restaurant – and if you don’t believe me, look under the table next time. We don’t go to stuff ourselves – in fact, it’s a great life lesson for the kids to help them learn portion control as well as self-control. A good buffet restaurant is worth 5 chain restaurants any day for our family.
Why it works
What’s to like? The variety! If one kid wants pizza and the other wants pancakes, no problem. We’re covered. If I want a salad and the Princess wants a steak (carnivore, remember?) then we can get that too. Plus the dessert bar is kid heaven.
I have to laugh – the Destroyer finds foods to eat, but his choices at the buffet are so funny! His plate was filled with canned peaches, biscuit, mac and cheese, crackers, raisins, and pancake the last time we went. He was happy, I was happy. It might not be the best dietary choices, but at least he’s eating something! At home, I can control his diet a little better and help him eat healthfully. When we dine out I’m just looking for anything he will actually eat.
One extra bonus – the kids will often try something new at a buffet that they wouldn’t consider touching at home. They may not eat much, but at least they’re trying! Perhaps we’ll open up the wide world of vegetables and discover salads. I can hope.
Maybe one day when we can find suitable child care and the kids won’t freak out, my husband and I will be able to enjoy fine dining again. Date night is one of those sacrifices we’ve given up. It’s just not feasible with our family’s needs right now. Until then, a buffet is the way to go. Everyone’s happy, and everyone’s eating. And I didn’t have to cook!