Dear Restaurants, Are your chicken fingers real?

Dear Restaurants: Are Your Chicken Fingers Real??
My family recently traveled to South Carolina for spring vacation. I chose not to bring any food along for the kids in order to both decrease the amount of schlepping and expand their intake. I recognize, as a registered dietitian, that my children’s exposure to food is probably more limited than if I were just a regular mom. Their pickiness may partially be my doing; but after seeing some of the chicken fingers out there, sometimes I am quite happy that my boys are as selective as they are.

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Our trip began at the LGA airport. While there, we went to one of the new nicer French restaurants, where I ordered a tuna nicoise salad and my hubby ate salmon. Bobby wanted grilled cheese, but the restaurant only offered croquet monsieur, so I asked for that to be made into a grilled cheese. Billy said he didn’t like anything and was not eating, so he didn’t. He was fine with that and so were we. (I packed a PB and J just in case he got hungry on the plane anyway.)
The second challenge of the trip came about during Easter brunch, which we spent at their grandparent’s clubhouse. Fortunately, there were plenty of options on the menu. There were even chicken fingers (thank goodness, or the boys may not have eaten all vacation).
Honestly though, I’m getting to the point where I just want Bobby to move past chicken fingers—even in nicer settings. I seriously believe that the chicken fingers served in most restaurants are of the same quality as those at fast food chains. I would never bring my child to a fast food chain, and yet I allow them to practically consume ingredients of fast food quality with the hope that my modeling will have an effect on their future intake. Sometimes, it can be frustrating and difficult to tell whether it is.
Anyway, back to the clubhouse.
Billy refused all food. I made him a kid-friendly plate with mac and cheese and fruit. He didn’t eat it, but he didn’t make a scene either.
As for Bobby, I created a plate with chicken fingers, sweet potato fries, mac and cheese with lobster, and fresh fruit. He refused to eat anything at first and finally conceded to the chicken fingers and the macaroni (sans lobster). Of course, I silently wished the chicken were grilled and the macaroni whole-wheat. After all, it was Easter. There was a lot of candy at the kids’ fingertips, and I wanted to supplement their sweet tooth with something more nutritious in order to balance their blood sugar and meet the demands of swimming all day.
Each day of vacation, we faced the same dilemma: “What can the kids eat off the menu today?”
While I typically enjoyed items like heirloom beet and goat cheese salad, Bobby requested grilled cheese on whole-wheat with fries. (The whole-wheat was my doing.) Billy ate sliced cheese, that is, if he liked the cheese the waiter brought him, and shared some of Bobby’s fries. French fries are somewhat of a recent behavior. Not a mother’s dream, but at the end of the day, food is food. I’d have to use breakfast and snack time to sneak in apple slices, applesauce, raisins, bananas and veggies squeezers.
At dinner, my husband and I encouraged the boys to choose a dish off the kid’s menu. I was not bringing food to every restaurant, and while I would love for my children to eat off of the adult menu, we’re just not there yet.
The kid’s menu typically consists of pasta with cheese or sauce, pizza, chicken fingers, grilled cheese and hamburgers. Bobby varied his choices each night. The one evening he chose chicken fingers, I actually felt like sending it back; the strips had no semblance to chicken. Instead, there was this big puffy fried breading-like cloud engulfing the meat. I held my breath. Bobby didn’t even want it, though he picked at some of the meat once I pealed the fried layer off.

Dear Restaurants,
Please offer baked chicken fingers or grilled chicken on the children’s menu. Please pair this with fruits and veggies or baked French fries. Kindly serve whole-wheat bread as the grain of choice and let parents request white bread if they want it.  
Thank you,

I don’t understand why more restaurants can’t make these simple adjustments. When we vacationed in California last year, Bobby ate quesadillas (though he has since taken this off his list again). Kid’s menus in California were a breath of fresh air compared to what we were dealing with in South Carolina. On the west coast, menus teemed with nutritious options, from grilled chicken to fresh fruit to corn on the cob and veggie sides.
By the end of our week in South Carolina, I wound up making Billy a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He ate whole-grain pancakes with chocolate chips at the diner on our last morning. (By the way, every breakfast place offered whole-grain or whole-wheat pancakes. I’m grateful that the diners in South Carolina served whole-grain pancakes with real fruit.)
Perhaps most surprising about the weekend was that the kids didn’t eat the Easter candy their grandparents gave them. This was amazing. Believe it or not, their baskets sat untouched on the counter the entire week. My oldest son actually told me he liked the New York City Easter Bunny better because that Easter Bunny brought toys, not food! They did, however, munch on the jellybeans grandma left out on the table everyday and the ice cream she offered. And that was just fine. All I ask for on vacation is a sense of balance. If 75% of their intake is made up of nutrient-dense foods, the rest can consist of “sometimes foods.”
What made the trip a success? Well, I now know the kids are getting to an age where they can behave themselves in restaurants. While Billy needs a little more help, Bobby can always find something to eat. Then again, Billy can always just eat sliced cheese if nothing else is available. I definitely do not expect a restaurant to cater to his food preferences—or lack thereof.
Although eating out at restaurants increases their exposure, table manners, patience and other positive behaviors, at this point, I’ve come to realize that eating at home is probably the best option. My boys get so many “sometimes foods” during snack times, at friend’s homes and even when visiting their grandparents that it’s ultimately in their best interest that I feed them, and so that’s what I’ll continue to do for the most part.
Moms and dads: What do your children eat when dining at a restaurant? Do you think the chicken is real whole chicken or equal to that of the chicken served at fast food chains? 

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