T.G.I. McAppleFriendly’s

Like any stay-at-home parent, I relish the occasional opportunity to slack off my meal-prepping duties and haul the brood out to a local eatery. I love the simplicity of just walking in, sitting down, looking at a menu, selecting something, and waiting for my perfectly-heated entree to arrive on a steaming plate carried by a sometimes charming waiter or waitress who is hoping for a large tip. It’s one of life’s little joys. I have many fond memories associated with eating out.  Unfortunately, none that involve my children.

For some reason, eating anywhere other than our own kitchen causes my already picky offspring to refuse to either eat or drink on command. Each lunch or dinner away from home turns into a maddening game of “Eat just one more bite and you can have ice cream!” − a game which, it must be said, my children lose more often than not.

And it’s not like I’m taking them to fancy, or even ethnic, restaurants. Much as I’d love to treat the whole family to a magical dining experience at one of our area’s numerous fine dining establishments such as Chiboust or Mima or Wasabi, I’m not stupid. I can just imagine ordering food for my four or six-year old at Red Hat.

“OK, Honey. Would you like the seared spiced duck breast with red cabbage, apple sauerkraut, glazed turnips, sautéed spinach, pomegranate and peppercorn gastrique, or the pan-roasted natural Amish farm chicken with savory wild mushroom-leek bread pudding, roasted baby Brussel sprouts and chicken jus vinaigrette, or the sauteed Maine cod with tomato-saffron ‘bouillabaisse style’ broth, fingerling potatoes, braised fennel & red pepper and spicy aioli crouton?”
“Uhm − do they have chicken nuggets?”

Even some of the more obvious, and delicious, local restaurants fail to inspire my kids. It’s pointless to try to take them to Lefteris Gyro, for example, because we end up ordering a gyro plate without olives, onions, feta, lettuce, meat − basically everything but the pita.

I have friends whose children eat all sorts of food. Sushi. Pasta. London Broil. I envy them − an envy bordering at times on petty jealousy. I have one kid who will eat cheese pizza, and that’s a step up from the years when she’d only eat “cheese pizza without the cheese.” Bring my other one to a pizza parlor and he snacks on the rolls. Something about the developing taste buds of my children requires them to resist anything new. It took me a week to convince my daughter to give caramel a try. I’ve given up trying to figure it out. For instance, my kids love to eat cheese quesadillas, but neither will touch a cheese sandwich. I’ve tried to explain that the two are, more or less, the same thing − cheese and bread. They’re not buying it.

The answer to my dilemma, sadly, has become the Chain. I cringe every time we pull into one but, to be honest, I go to Friendly’s on Central Avenue, Applebees on 9A, T.G.I. Friday’s on 119, or, albeit infrequently, pull through the drive-through at Micky-D’s, I know they’re going to be marginally nourished. Chicken nuggets, cheese quesadillas, French fries, maybe some melon.  These are a few of our favorite things. Sure, I long to take them someplace that doesn’t feature something on the menu called a Fribble, but beggars can’t be choosers. Basically, we can do diners. So the Horseman on Broadway is a good choice, as is the Executive Diner on 9A. Horsefeathers would work, but it’s just way too expensive to waste on two kids who would just as soon be eating something picked up in bulk at Costco.

I have to believe that someday this will change. Someday my daughter will come to me and ask for a pizza with an actual topping on it. Someday my son will beg me to take him somewhere for a spicy tuna roll. Someday I’ll be able to announce to my family that we’re going out for the raw bar at Striped Bass and be met with something other than a blank look of horror.  Someday.

For now, my own personal dietary boredom is secondary to the nutritional needs of my children. We’ve been lucky insofar as while they only eat a few things, the list includes a couple vegetables, many fruits, and a few different sources of protein. Everything the growing boy or girl needs. It could be worse. We have a friend whose daughter only eats white food. Another child we know only eats Cheerios and Monterey Jack cheese. At least my kids are getting a balanced meal, more or less.

Still, I’d let them scarf down an entire Snowman Sundae in exchange for one bite of a cheeseburger − and that’s not even healthy.

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About the Author: David Neilsen