My kids are notoriously picky eaters. They like to go to out to eat, but thus far, we have been limited to restaurants with kids menus featuring chicken tenders, macaroni & cheese, and pizza. I know that to get your kids to eat a variety of foods, you have to expose them to that food, but it's a lot easier to do that at home rather than in a restaurant.
Call me crazy, but I'd rather risk tears of injustice over being presented with unfamiliar food in the privacy of my own dining room instead of in a room full of annoyed customers.
Last Wednesday, when my kids suddenly decided that they were ready to try Chinese food, my husband and I jumped on the chance. I think the kids really just wanted fortune cookies, but as long as I got my beef with broccoli, I didn't much care. Five minutes later, we were pulling into the parking lot at .
The awesome thing about Chinese food restaurants is that there is enough novelty to distract kids even if they refuse to eat the food. For example, the first thing you see when you walk into Good Fortune is the lobster tank. It's terribly sad, but the entertainment value is through the roof.
Next up? Giant fish in the next tank over. My youngest son immediately started demanding to eat one of those fish, but the smallest one. My middle son merely said, "I see sushi."
Then, once you are actually seated, you have chopsticks to sword fight with, tea cups to drink water out of, and a Chinese zodiac place mat that lets you know that you, the sheep, "will bring trouble" to your mother, the ox. All of this before we even had a chance to place our orders.
After that, it was an hour of high comedy dining with three kids, ages 7 through 10, experiencing the magic of Chinese food for the first time.
We ordered a pu-pu platter to start them off—although, dear lord, you don't tell the children that is what it is called if you want them to eat anything off of it. Benefits of the pu-pu platter: several options for the kids to choose from, including meat on a stick! Cons of the pu-pu platter: FIRE ON THE TABLE!
That said, no one caught on fire, despite my kids' repeated attempts to roast egg rolls over the open flame. My oldest son did, however, burn himself on the teapot.
We had a range of success with the food itself. My youngest son is my most adventurous eater and was covered in grease by the time our main courses arrived. He was delighted by the pu-pu platter (Meat! On a stick!) and even happier with the sweet and sour chicken, which we tried to sell to the kids by calling it "Chinese chicken nuggets."
One bite into the chicken, my youngest was sold. "I could eat this all day!" he proclaimed. Then he commenced to doing so.
My middle (autistic) son, however, stayed true to his extreme refusal to eat anything, sticking with only the white rice. He even refused vegetable-free fried rice. He is firmly ensconced in what a friend of mine once referred to as Autism McNuggetville. I think he owns a house there.
My oldest was at least willing to taste some of the food, but he mostly filled up on the pancakes that came with my husband's Peking duck.
All said, I consider the evening a rousing success. No one was stabbed with a chopstick. We didn't knock over a fish tank. The wait staff seemed suitably amused by my kids' enthusiasm. Plus, the kids ate enough that we didn't have to feed them again when we got home and we had gobs of leftovers. Not to mention that my white rice eater asked to go back the very next day.
Chinese food accomplished. Next up: Ethiopian.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.