The Restaurant: A Modern Family's Home away from Home

For many busy families these days, it seems that dining out isn't just a luxury; it's a frequent family ritual. Whether these parents treat their kids to four-star meals or burgers and fries, some folks feel just as at home in the local diner as they would in their own kitchen. But what happened to the good old days when an hour was scheduled for dinner and meals were cooked from scratch, at home? Truth is, few parents have the time, the energy and the culinary expertise to carry out that routine night after night. Instead, they pile into the car and head elsewhere for eats.

Parent Soup, a leading parenting site on the Web and America Online, wondered just how often parents took their kids out to dinner. Turns out that 33 percent dine out once a week. About 24 percent of the respondents head to a restaurant every couple of weeks, and 14 percent make a habit out of ordering in. And only 5 percent say they rarely, if ever, serve their family a meal that hasn't been prepared in the home. Here's what four moms had to say about it:

"We eat out once every couple of weeks," Julzlady said. "But when it comes to ordering in? Let's just say that there's seems to be a direct flow from my checkbook to the restaurant's piggy bank. It's our biggest obstacle in trying to more effectively manage our money. Often the boys eat McDonalds on the way to school. Sometimes the kids and I stop for dinner or order a pizza because I can't think of anything to cook. Plus, heading to a restaurant is easier for my family than piling everyone into the car to go to the grocery store. We get to spend some time together this way."

"I'd say we eat out about two times per month," said djknappsack. "We probably order in pizza once or twice a month as well. It really depends on how rich we happen to be feeling at the time. If my husband gets a nice paycheck, then we usually go out to dinner to celebrate. If it's the middle of the month and things are tight, we feed the family whatever I can scrape out of the freezer. Plus, since we have a two-year-old, eating out can be a pretty big challenge."

Lauren1063 says that it all depends on her family's schedule. "We used to eat out a lot, but it just got so expensive. Now we usually go to a restaurant once on the weekend if we have time. And during my son's baseball season, we sometimes grab food on the road. Other than that, we mostly eat at home."

Maxchandler's family, on the other hand, finds dining out a necessity. "We definitely eat out several times per week. I hate to cook, and it's a great way to get the family together. I don't know what our lives would be like without take-out."

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