Order Up at Cafe Awesome

What's Hot

2 Types of Black Marks Might Vanish From Your Credit File SoonBorrow

6 Ways the Obamacare Overhaul Might Impact Your WalletInsurance

7 Dumb and Costly Moves Homebuyers MakeBorrow

This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to LifeMore

Obamacare Replacement Plan Gets ‘F’ Rating from Consumer ReportsFamily

Beware These 12 Common Money MistakesCredit & Debt

21 Restaurants Offering Free Food Right NowSaving Money

17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less MoneySave

House Hunters: Beware of These 6 Mortgage MistakesBorrow

30 Household Uses for Baby OilSave

25 Ways to Spend Less on FoodMore

Nearly Half of Heart-Related Deaths Linked to These 10 Foods and IngredientsFamily

5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in WinterFamily

10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum WageSave

Boost Your Credit Score Fast With These 7 MovesCredit & Debt

7 Painless Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Years EarlierBorrow

The Most Sinful City in the U.S. Is … (Hint: It’s Not Vegas)Family

The True Cost of Bad CreditCredit & Debt

10 Companies With the Best 401(k) PlansGrow

This Scam Now Tops ID Theft as the No. 2 Consumer ComplaintFamily

6 Stores With Awesome Reward ProgramsFamily

6 Ways to Save More at Lowe’s and The Home DepotSave

6 Healthful Treats for Your DogFamily

New Study Ranks the Best States in the U.S.Family

Thousands of Millionaires Moving to 1 Country — and Leaving AnotherGrow

Strapped for College Costs? How to Get the Most From FAFSABorrow

6 Overlooked Ways to Save at Chick-fil-AFamily

Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Pay Off My Mortgage?Borrow

Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top DollarAround The House

8 Ways to Get a Good Price on a Shiny New AutoCars

Ask Stacy: How Do I Start Over?Credit & Debt

Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know AboutFamily

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

14 Super Smart Ways to Save on TravelSave

The Rich Prefer Modest Cars — Should You Join Them?Cars

You’ll Soon Pay More to Shop at CostcoSave

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts DrivingFamily

What's better than taking the kids to a restaurant? Turning your home into one and putting them to work in it.

Before I moved back to Anchorage I often took my niece and her two boys out to eat during visits. I still do, sometimes, but lately have been focused on setting aside dollars for a summertime trip to the East Coast.

When I invited them over one recent Sunday I knew I’d need to feed them. But our kitchen is stocked for frugal grown-ups. What did we have that would appeal to a couple of hollow-legged boys?

Then I flashed back on a game my daughter used to play: “Dinner and Movie.” She’d make up a menu based on what was in the fridge and we’d play restaurant, then watch something I’d videotaped (remember videotapes?) or just watch TV.

Thus was born “Cafe Awesome” – a game that’s become an awesome money-saver.

I made up a brunch menu divided into starters, entrees, sides, beverages, and desserts. When the boys arrived I told them we’d be serving their mom as though she were at a restaurant. I gave each a cook’s apron and a few instructions, then set out a beer stein that rings a small bell when you open the lid.

Moments later Britain was showing his mother to the kitchen table and handing her the menu, which I’d affixed to a clipboard. He carefully printed her order on a scratch pad and set the page on the butcher-block counter (just steps away, but in our game a separate kitchen area).

Ding! “Order in!” the 6-year-old waiter said.

Frugal fun

His 11-year-old brother was the chef (in theory, anyway) and I was the manager (a very hands-on manager). Malachi is interested in learning more about cooking, but I think his favorite part was opening the beer stein as each course became ready: “Order up!”

After their mom finished her meal we took turns serving one another. The novelty of the game kept them from noticing that they were eating some pretty ordinary fare: rolls and butter, sausage patties, oatmeal, orange segments.

I was delighted: If we’d gone to IHOP the tab would have been at least $30, plus tax and tip.

Cafe Awesome reopens whenever the kids drop by, even if it’s just the snack menu. The game makes it fun to eat whatever I have on hand:

  • “The cheese and crackers plate” (on-sale Monterey Jack with the Triscuits I bought on sale with coupon).
  • “Sausage bites” (loss-leader breakfast patties and homemade rolls pulled from the freezer).
  • “House special noodles” (a.k.a. ramen).

I don’t feel the need to buy special (read: expensive) treats, the boys are honing their kitchen skills and, unlike movie theaters or arcades, this kind of quality time doesn’t cost anything. Frugal trifecta!

The time spent together means a lot. I’m acutely aware that make-believe has an extremely short shelf life. It won’t be long before Malachi will be too cool for school, completely uninterested in hanging out with his brother and auntie. Pretending to be a chef will seem silly or, worse, boring. The restaurant will be just a kitchen once more.

More stories on DonnaFreedman.com:

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


Read Next: 10 Key Facts to Test Your Credit Card IQ

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,017 more deals!