In my old life, I would jump at the chance to eat out. Cooking at home meant some variation of microwave dinners or boiling a can of soup.
Over the past several years, however, I have been learning to cook. I read cookbooks and watch cooking shows. I get excited when I come upon an interesting new recipe, and I am at this point confident enough to modify it and make it my own.
I also get advice from my wife, who had been adept in the ways of kitchen knowledge since well before we met more than a decade ago.
I am still a novice with much to learn, but both of us have gotten to a place where we would just as soon eat at home as go out. On the rare occasion when Becky and I do decide to go to a restaurant, we often choose one we’ve read about that is known for its innovative kitchen and finely prepared dishes. It is a pleasurable routine that works out pretty well except for the occasional break in the pattern — something like a family vacation, for example.
In my old life, I didn’t have kids. Now I am a grandfather to four little ones. Becky and I, along with our grandchildren and their parents, recently drove to Holland, Michigan, for a few days summer getaway. We stayed at a hotel with adjoining rooms. The grandchildren are 2, 4, 6 and 8 years old. The rooms were pretty small. It was an intense several days. Fun, but intense.
For the past eight years, my grandchildren have taught me a lot about dining out. I have learned that children this age understand fine dining to be an establishment that includes toys with the cuisine.
I have learned that grandkids often have a difficult time holding on to their food, and I have learned that a lid is a must for paper cups. Often the food that does stay off the floor or tabletop winds up on various parts of their faces and clothes, which makes for some interesting visual displays.
I have learned that children this age often don’t actually eat much of their food if there is the least distraction about. A playground attached to the building, for example, will draw kids away from their food with Svengali-like powers. Distractions, however, can be as simple as blowing bubbles in their drinks or making designs in the catsup with french fries.
Noise plays an important role in every great gastronomic experience with grandchildren. It is an interesting design concept that most of the eating establishments they prefer include not only their own chattering and squealing voices but a cacophony of TV monitors, arcade games, piped-in music and the occasional animated robot animals playing musical instruments.
Of the food itself there is not much I can say other than it is clearly not the focus of the g-kid restaurant experience. When I order for myself, I usually check the menu for any item that has the closest resemblance to something that at one time contained actual organic material. But let’s face it, the food itself is a secondary concern to little kids.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.