I’ve mentioned this before, elsewhere, but trying to feed kids on the road is a huge challenge.
When encouraging the 7-year-old to eat the lettuce and tomato on his burger counts as “getting his veggies” on Day 10 of an epic road trip, you know you have a problem.
The winner for best kids’ meal? The North York Novotel Hotel breakfast buffet, which had plenty of fruit and enticing whole grain cereals, small pastries (petit pain au chocolat for Mme. Cooke) and real juice, along with the usual suspects and eggs Benedict and beans on toast (a big hit with Callum). One waiter, hearing a conversation about pancakes on a day there were waffles on the buffet instead, offering to have the chef whip up some pancakes for the 4-year-old. Now that’s service …
The runnerup was Appleby’s, where by choosing milk and broccoli you can carve out something resembling a balanced meal, or Swiss Chalet (a Canadian chain), which offers a drumstick and thigh of rotisserie chicken and a variety of sides for kids. Callum had a big plate of steamed corn, two pieces of not-fried chicken, milk and a bit of bread.
Independent restaurants are good choices, but can be hard to find in “tourist” districts. There was the little Italian place in North York where Callum spilt his water (twice) before we ordered and the waitstaff were far more understanding than I was; and the shawarma joint down the street, with the big plate of salad and rice under the shaved meat, humus and tzaziki. But when you’ve just hit the hotel, the kids are tired from hours in the car, hungry and precisely 27 and a half minutes from a Defcon 7-level meltdown, you want quick, cheap and cheery, and driving around looking for a good place to eat isn’t in the cards.
You start to understand the lure of Tim Horton’s up there. It started as a chain of doughnut shops, but now has simple sandwiches on white or wheat, chili and soup, bagels. Good coffee. And it’s cheap. And they’re everywhere. You could easily eat at “Timmy’s” twice a day and get by just fine.
The standard “family friendly” kids’ menu:
Chicken strips, burger, cheeseburger, hot dog, grilled processed cheese sandwich on white, pasta with either red sauce or cheese. Standard side: fries. Beverage choices: Milk, soda, chocolate milk.
This is especially depressing in a restaurant geared toward kids, like the Rainforest Cafe, which shows great imagination in creating a theme but none, zip, zero, in creating a menu. And I swear the next waiter who, when confronted with two squirmy kids and their parents ordering milk for them, brightly asks “Chocolate?” is going to get a smack in the head. No, white milk, but thanks for reminding the rugrats they have chocolate and extra sugar as an option, you dope.
Worst encounter with a waiter:
Q: “Can we get half of the two-egg breakfast as a one-egg breakfast for our son, so one egg, one slice of bacon and one piece of toast?”
A: “No, I don’t have a key to ring it in.” … and that was in the best or second-best hotel we stayed at …
The worst kids’ meal? Oh lord, it’s hard to say. The Rainforest Cafe was a big disappointment as far as food, but the boys loved it. Finn wanted to stay for one more indoor thunderstorm …
The breakfast at the Kingston, Ont., Denny’s, where Callum gave up trying to cut the pancake with a knife because all that sawing made his shoulder hurt (seriously), probably wins, although the waitress was good enough to offer splitting a Grand Slam for the boys. (Speaking of which, what’s up with their menu? It has a “waffle slam,” with a waffle, two eggs, two slices of bacon and two sausages, but you have to ask for a plain waffle as a special request item? Wtf?
Dishonorable mention to the Grimsby, Ont., farmers’ market selling “tree ripened peaches” that were still hard four days later. We had to send them home with my mother because they weren’t edible when it came time to cross the border.