May I Take Your Order, Please?
by Sandy Williams Driver
The perky blond-haired waitress stood behind the counter holding an order pad and pencil. She was very polite as she related the daily specials to me, my husband, and our two sons. We all decided on whoppers and French fries. Within mere seconds of placing our order, our meals were served to us piping hot by the young waitress named Katie, according to her nametag. Even though all of our burgers had been special ordered, each one was prepared to perfection. We were not surprised when our server placed an extra order of food at a vacant spot at the end of our table and sat down to join us in our meal.
Our waitress is actually very young. She is only ten years old. You may be wondering what third world country we live in that supports child labor. My family lives in the good 'ole USA and we are eating "in" tonight at one of our favorite fast food restaurants, "Mom's Place." The burgers were cooked on my "lean, mean, fat-reducing grilling machine" and the fries were peeled, sliced and baked in my oven.
I am a homemaker with three children, ages 12, 14 and 16. I also have a full time job driving a taxi, which is a red Nissan Quest mini-van. It doesn't have a meter running on the dash, but it makes several trips all over town every day. It visits three different schools, baseball games, football games, swimming lessons, gymnastic and karate lessons. I am constantly bombarded by requests such as, "Can you run me to the movie theater?" and "Hurry, Mom, the game starts in 30 minutes." I could save time at the filling station if I had my own personal eighteen wheeler fuel tankard driving by my side with a hose attached to the gas tank on my van.
While spending so much time on the road, we are continually offered views of large banners offering everything from crunchy tacos to pepperoni pizza. Big Macs and Whoppers are blown up to be ten feet tall and a gigantic rooster invites us to try their "finger lickin' good" chicken. By the time each of my children was two years old, they recognized the golden arches and already had a collection of Happy Meal toys. They could sing the jingle from Burger King, but didn't know the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
It had gotten to where every time we drove down the highway, they just had to have something to eat. Sometimes, we would almost make it home when the local radio station would start singing about the combo meal special at Wendy's. This would produce a chorus of "Mom, pleeease! We're starving."
I was always a pushover and would stop for take-out until one day about four years ago. I decided to sit down and add up all the money I had spent for "fast food" during the past month. I was shocked! We could have bought the whole family tickets to Six Flags for the same money! A little research showed me that in the year 2000, Americans spent more than $110 billion on fast food. That's more than on new cars, computers, movies, books, recorded music, and higher education combined! I made a decision that very minute. No more eating out except on special occasions.
My kids threatened to call Social Services and report child abuse. They all agreed that a foster home would be more preferable than a home cooked meal every night. I knew that the foods I prepared at home were much healthier than the ones we consumed while eating out. Even though "fast food" is convenient, it is laden with fats, sugar and starches. But, how could I ever get my family to go along with this new plan? Also, when would I find the time to prepare so many meals at home when I was constantly on the run? After deep thought and much deliberation, I came up with an idea that was approved by everyone and has also been the source of many evenings of entertainment for the entire family.
Each one of my children is assigned a night each week to choose a restaurant from which to prepare a meal. We go over the menu for the upcoming week on Friday night, and then on Saturday morning, I pick up the necessary ingredients at the supermarket. Besides getting to plan the menu, they also have to help cook the meal and serve it to the rest of the family. Everything they choose is usually quick and relatively easy to prepare.
Katie likes Burger King, so we usually have "Whoppers" on Monday night. She really enjoys helping me cook and loves to wear her homemade nametag. Jake's favorite is "Taco Bell" and he insists on individually wrapping each taco and burrito before serving them on Tuesdays. He even has a stuffed Chihuahua we sit on the bar. My oldest son, Josh, will soon be 17. He doesn't enjoy playing our little charade as much as he used to, but he still helps me add the toppings to our large homemade "Pizza Hut" pizza on Wednesday night. He doesn't wear his nametag anymore, but we don't report him to the manager.
During the past two years, my family has dined at many well-known restaurants without ever having to leave the comfort of our home. My children have learned to prepare many different kinds of food and also to appreciate the effort it takes to do so. The best part about the whole thing, however, is the one-on-one time I get to spend with each child on their special night. Any mother with more than one child knows how difficult this can be on a weekday evening. Another plus is that my meal planning has become easier now because I don't have to rush home at 6:00 p.m. and try to decide what to cook for supper. I still try to plan at least two or three meals a week around meat and vegetables, and my husband, Tim, usually gets Sunday nights to cook on the grill outdoors or to whip up some omelets and pancakes.
We haven't completely banned eating in restaurants because there are occasions when it is necessary. Summer vacations and ball games in other towns always find us in line at whichever "fast food" place is convenient. My husband and I also try to go out and eat once a month without the children, so we can have some alone time. However, last month, he surprised me with a candle light meal at home with a bottle of wine, grilled steaks and a vase of roses. We both enjoyed it immensely.
This has been a wonderful experience for my family. We are all healthier, have more money with which to do extra things, and have enjoyed many hours of quality time with each other that I hope will one day be cherished memories in the minds of my children that they might wish to share with their own children.
Take the Next Step
- Your groceries cost less when you get cash back! Checkout 51 can show you how!
- We are always finding new ways to help you trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.
We're still paying off last Christmas and worry how we'll afford the holidays this year without charging it again! Tell us: Yes, we could use help getting out of the debt trap we're in! or No, debt is not a problem for us but I'm always looking for ways to trim my family's expenses further!
More Money-Saving Tips for Families
- Snap up these 9 deals in August
- 5 big bills you can cut fast
- 5 frugal ways to expand your living space
- 4 steps to a simpler (and more frugal) life
- Choosing a guardian for your child
- 3 fun party ideas your nearly teen will love
- How much do kids need to know about the family budget?
- This week's Readers' Tips