It's true, I was forbidden from eating at Olive Garden as a kid. I didn't do anything to deserve this cruel punishment. It was actually all my dad's fault—he didn’t allow our family to eat at Olive Garden, or any other chain restaurant.

I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten out at popular chain restaurants. I think I ate at Texas Roadhouse once, but my dad was not present.

french fries, potato, chips, vegetable, fish and chips
Photo courtesy of Marielena Planas

Sound harsh? I thought so, too. As I got older, my friends started telling me about all these delicious restaurants they would eat at with their families. One had warm, cheesy biscuits you haven’t lived until you've tried (not that I would know).

I know not being able to eat out at all the same places as my peers isn’t the end of the world, but it made me feel strangely isolated. People found it weird that I had never been to Olive Garden and told me I was missing out. 

spaghetti, pasta, tomato, sauce, vegetable, macaroni
Megan Prendergast

The cool thing about growing up without all these places was that I was living in an ignorant bliss before my teenage years. I really wasn’t aware of their existence, and you can’t miss what you never had.

But, as soon as I was told about this unlimited breadstick thing Olive Garden had going on, I begged my parents to let us go. I couldn’t understand why we never frequented places the rest of America loves.

bread, breadstick, pastry, dough, flour
Eunice Choi

My first visit was my last visit because it made me realize that not eating out as a kid didn’t deprive me of anything. Eating sub-par Italian food completely changed my perspective of who was really missing out on something spectacular.

The real reason my dad never allowed us to eat at Olive Garden is because he is much too proud of his Italian heritage and cooking skills to allow his family to eat somewhere that completely disgraces good Italian food (his words, not mine). 

Instead, I learned how to make homemade pasta, sauce, and meatballs with my dad. We bought a pizzelle maker so we could make the Italian Christmas cookies together. We had homemade pizza nights up to once a week when I was young. It always turned into a competition and ended with flour all one victim involved.

basil, tomato
Elena Bailoni

My parents decided that cooking for their kids was more important than them experiencing the part of American culture that can be found at Red Lobster. Any night one of my parents was free, we were in the kitchen cooking something. I always jumped in to help, even if the only help I could be at a young age was grating cheese and prepping salads.

Being in the kitchen with my parents provided the foundation for my love of cooking. From a young age, they instilled in me a desire to live a healthy lifestyle. It was in the kitchen with them that I learned how to portion meals, hide veggies in sauces, and how to make dishes most eight year olds would turn their noses up to (these people got me to love Brussel sprouts since practically birth). 

Aly Sebold

After years in the kitchen learning from and with my parents, I now have a solid foundation for my own definition of a healthy plate. They didn't allow popular restaurants to be the basis on which we learned what a well-rounded meal was. My perception of food has been completely and exclusively influenced by their choices. 

I never fully appreciated these priceless experiences until I was much older. I'm no longer resentful that I couldn’t relate to the “Olive Garden experience” other people bonded over. What once made me feel like an outsider now makes me feel so fortunate.

Thanks, Dad, for forbidding me from eating at Olive Garden and replacing it with family time inside that I wouldn’t trade for the world.