Pick up a children’s menu. Any children’s menu. I speak for the country I live in, but chances are it will contain any or all of the following items, served of course with the ubiquitous fistful of French fries.
Grilled cheese sandwich
And let’s not forget the Mac-N-Cheese, shall we?
As an added bonus, some kid’s menus in our parts occasionally include Fish-N-Chips. It is unclear if this inclusion is somewhat of a warped tribute to the English antecedents of this region, a reminder of our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, or simply a desire to throw in an Omega-3 (or 2) in keeping with the general nutritional theme.
The children’s menu seemed like such a wonderful concept when I encountered it for the first time as a parent. The Youngling got her own special menu! And her own special entrée! With crayons! Which meant we adults could get down to the serious business of paying attention to our carpaccios and cocktails.
Now I grew up largely eating what my parents ate. Once we were out of toddler-zone, there was no “custom” food made for us at home. We simply ate what was served. Or not.
There were some bummer meals for sure (bell pepper curry ranks up there.) But there were also the revelatory experiences – both at home and when my parents took us out to eat, with strict instructions to refrain from giggling or playing with our forks. Mealtimes in general, and dining out in particular became events to look forward to, mostly because I was never relegated to a predictable list of flavorless, fat-laden, “kid-friendly” food which ensured that my eating experience was completely delineated from that of my adult fellow-diners.
I began to worry when we recently ordered a grilled cheese sandwich (or was it chicken tenders?) for probably the 40th time, and noticed The Youngling's eyes glazing over. Much like my parents, I put an end to “custom” food at home as soon as she turned two. Why couldn’t she do the same outside?
We obsess so much about doing the Right Things for our offspring. We are supposed to read to them 20 minutes a day, limit screen time, slather the sunscreen on, take them for outdoor activities like we are going into battle, replete with helmets, shin guards and elbow pads. Yet as a society we have seriously fallen short on tickling their taste buds by falling prey to the chicken finger pandemic that has gripped eating establishments.
At a recent trip to Rhode Island, we all dined al fresco at a lovely dockside restaurant, quietly put away the kids menu and asked for an extra plate. The Youngling ate a hot roll fresh from the oven with olive oil, minced garlic, parmesan cheese, and chili flakes, 2 oysters with horseradish, half of a lobster tail and three pieces of broccoli, after which she imperiously declared the end of her meal.