Are You KIDDING Me With This???

Friday, September 01, 2006

This Is Why We Forget To Order For Him, McMama

So here's the thing: it's fairly widely understood that when you have kids, your days of eating out three nights a week at nice restaurants are pretty much down the drain. Forget how much it costs to have kids, and how little disposable income you have left after you've paid for diapers, clothes, food and toys for the littlest member of your family. You just can't expect a young kid to behave himself in a restaurant for an hour plus while you meander your way through appetizers, salads, entrees, desserts and drinks. I don't care how many crayons the restaurant is nice enough to provide.

But it's also fairly widely understood that if you are ever going to step foot in a nice restaurant again as a family, not just on the random nights when you manage to unearth enough spare change from in between the couch cushions to pay for a babysitter as well as dinner, you have to start taking your little tyke out with you to family-friendly restaurants as soon as they can reasonably be expected to handle it. We have been taking Turtle out to restaurants with us for quite a while now, and he does fairly well. We have the occasional problems of getting him to sit still or use his inside voice, but overall, he's a good kid. Very polite. Always says thank you to the serving staff. Charms the pants off of just about anybody, really. It's a sight to see. It's not a bad situation.

The problem I have is with the kids' menu. I expect that in a nice restaurant, the kids' menu may be a little pricey and might have larger portions of food than my almost-three-year-old can handle. But in a family-friendly restaurant...I don't know....I guess I just expect that having seen their fair share of toddlers, they would have a better idea of their eating habits and would adjust their menu accordingly. I mean, yes, it's great that they have macaroni and cheese, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or chicken nuggets on the kids' menu. For the older kids, particularly, this menu works out really well. For the younger kids, though, or even just the most infuriating of all kiddie-beasts, the "picky eater," or, God forbid, one who is both a toddler AND a picky eater, you should have an alternative menu. A subsection of the kids' menu, if you will.

I'm envisioning a menu upon which you would find, instead of a grilled cheese sandwich, "two slices of cheese, bread optional." Or instead of spaghetti and meatballs, "noodles, no offensive tomato-based sauce included, and one bite of meatball, which is all your child will eat before refusing to open his mouth within a 2 mile radius of the Italian specialty." Or perhaps, instead of bite-sized hamburgers, "one bun, with ketchup only."

I bring this up because we took Turtle to dinner tonight at his favorite restaurant. (Which, naturally, is not his favorite restaurant as a result of the food, but is instead his favorite restaurant because of the video game in the front which comes complete with a set of bright orange rifles, the better to shoot the moose and the bears with.) I have figured out Turtle's pattern enough to know that if he has consumed an item on the menu at any time in the past week, forget about ordering it for him, because he will staunchly refuse to touch it once you've paid $3.45 for it. I also know him well enough to know that if the menu item includes cheese, the likelihood that he will eat it goes up considerably. So in perusing the menu and seeing both macaroni and cheese (which he ate for lunch) and grilled cheese sandwiches (which he hasn't had for weeks), I figured the odds were in favor of him going for the grilled cheese sandwiches.

Things looked good at first. When Oscar and I received our order of cheesy garlic bread, Turtle was all over it, wanting some of it for himself. "Score!" I thought to myself, rather naively. "Bread plus cheese equals Happy Turtle." Then, not too long afterwards, his meal arrived. He picked up his sandwich and appeared to start eating it. I was pleased by my ordering success. A few minutes later, I looked up to find that perhaps I had congratulated myself too soon. Turtle had torn his sandwich apart and was picking the half-melted cheese off the bread, little piece by little piece.

I kept an eye on him throughout our meal. By the time he was done, it looked like he had committed a particularly brutal bread-homicide. Two pitted and mangled pieces of bread sat pitifully in his basket, with a few bits of cheese still desperately clinging to them, undoubtedly in abject terror. It wasn't pretty. Even the most seasoned of investigators would have looked at the bread, shaken his head and said, "Sick." And the fries? Forget it. He ate one and that was it. But that was okay, I guess, because I talked to them later, and they felt like they dodged a bullet. (Why yes, I like to anthropomorphize my food. Don't you?)

It's at moments like those that I wonder why I bother ordering for this kid at all. Except that I know him, and I know that if I don't order for him either a) his grandmother and auntie will be there to point their shame-fingers in my direction for neglecting him so shamefully, b) he'll consume everything off my plate, instead, even if it is filled with items he has avowed to despise until his dying breath, forcing me to make do with the decorative parsley, or c) he'll spend the entire meal talking instead of eating, and let me tell you....there are times when that is a fate worse than death.

So what's my point? (Oh, you mean, I should have one?) I guess it's just that if you're going to cater your restaurant to the ankle-biting crowd and their parents, the least you could do is make an attempt to accommodate them a little bit better. I just can't imagine I'm the only parent of a child whose eating habits change by the second. So just throw me a bone here....if you can't make a "picky eaters" menu as well as a kids' menu, could you at least put on a few a la carte items that would work for those of us whose kids will otherwise deconstruct your perfect grilled cheese sandwich in such a way that your other guests are suppressing their gag reflexes? I say this for your benefit as much as mine. Thanks.


At September 02, 2006 7:23 AM, Blogger Flip said...

Hi Cymber,

As a father of two..and rapidly approaching (OK...having already passed) grandfather age, I have two recommendations.

1. Ask the waiter/waitress to have the kitchen prepare what you know Turtle will eat - like two pieces of bread and a couple of uncooked pieces of cheese on the side. At most restaurants, if you get a halfway human-like server, they will be happy to do this. If you don't, just try saying, "Oh, we've never had a problem doing this before, but if you need to check with the manager first that's OK." This will usually get you what you want plus train the server for the next parent of small children. (They will also likely charge you less than what they would charge for a menu item.)

2) Order stuff for Turtle that you like to eat, then when he doesn't eat it you can. Less desirable but helps the pocketbook.

Good luck...and just be happy you can still order from the children's menu for him. Wait till he starts ordering two entrees and consuming them both on the spot then insisting that you stop at Marble Slab on the way home.


At September 03, 2006 7:49 AM, Blogger Nate said...

WE ahve almost ten year old twins and one of them is as picky as turtle. I second Flip's suggestions.

My problem is that when I underorder, guessing they will not eat, they choose to chow down. And of course, the opposite.

Flip - not sure what defines grandfather age but with one just married and one to be married in a few months, I am not only of age, but into countdown mode.

At September 05, 2006 1:01 AM, Blogger Karen said...

The Cheese Cake factory has a plate of just bread cubes & fruit & cheese. It's PERFECT for little kids. Here you want a pre-cut piece of banana? How about a tiny cheese cube? Mmmmmm cheese.

At September 08, 2006 9:57 AM, Blogger Lunatic Wife said...

The worst thing is ordering a meal your child tells you they want, only to have them change their mind once it's arrived. "Diva" does this often. She usually wants what I am eating after she's ordered. "Porkalotta" is more amiable. I usually order two kids meals, one with fries, one with fruit or broccoli and then divide both meals.

They both eat a little of it and what is on my plate.

Then we take it home and they eat the leftovers the next day.


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