I got back Saturday from five days on the beach in Cape May, N.J. (It should have been a week’s vacation; I’m looking at you, Hurricane Irene.) And instead of feeling rejuvenated, I’m nursing a stomach sick from eating ice cream, crab cakes, ice cream, saltwater taffy, ice cream, chicken cheese steaks, a hot dog, and ice cream. But that’s not what’s eating me. I’m more bothered that Ellie, my 20-month-old, keeps saying her stomach hurts, too.
I’m not going to pretend that she eats perfectly all the time. If it’s green or meat, she’s not interested, and I’m convinced that if it were not for the existence of challah, she would have long ago starved. But in Cape May, the only options on the kids’ menus were hot dogs, grilled cheese, fried shrimp, chicken fingers, buttered noodles, and mac and cheese – all served with fries and a tot-size soft drink. There wasn’t a veggie to be found. (Potatoes in the fries don’t count.) When I asked at a pricey Italian restaurant if the chef could steam some carrots in place of the fries, the waitress said no.
Much to my annoyance, my husband wasn’t nearly as concerned as I was about what Ellie was putting in her mouth. He justified her poor diet as a casualty of being on vacation. After all, we weren’t exactly scarfing down broiled salmon and crispy kale. “She’ll get right back on track when we get home,” he assured me.
That kids’ menus offer little more than fat- and cholesterol-laden options is not new, not unique to Cape May and, when you get down to it, not very surprising. After all, those are the foods most kids – heck, most adults, if we’re being honest – would prefer to eat. And us parents, hoping to avoid a scene in a public place, let them eat it.
But even McDonald’s lets you choose apple slices and milk in lieu of fries and a soda in a Happy Meal. Isn’t it time for more restaurants step up to the plate?
Now we’re home and Ellie keeps asking for mac and cheese. She hasn’t gotten it. Tonight she had a tantrum because she wanted ice cream after her bath. She didn’t get that, either. Of course, at her age she doesn’t connect her tummy trouble to what she ate, so getting her back on track will apparently be tougher than I naively thought it would be.
Short of packing a suitcase full of fruit, yogurt and whole-grain bread, what’s a parent to do? What do you do to make sure your children eat healthy away from home?