This is probably Anti-American, but I HATE buffets.
They gross me out at the same level of ick-factor one has after watching a kid pick his nose and then grab the ladle you are to touch. In my mind, that’s exactly what happens at buffets. Every person walking up to dish out the food from the shared bowl is flu-infected and will breathe out pathogens onto my dinner. The sight of half-eaten plates reminds me of leftovers sitting at a picnic with flies buzzing, waiting to land perfectly on the deviled egg I’m about to grab. The gluttonous mounds of fried food, half-cold and waiting is somewhat nauseating to me. I just can’t.
And…yes, I recognize this is a first world problem and yes, I acknowledge this sounds like the ranks of “fed with a golden-spoon,” but it’s how I feel about them.
Until this week, that is, when my kids changed my mind. Funny how they do that.
Ever have those days where you just NEED to be with your kids? After a particularly stressful weekend, I found myself in that familiar place. Uniquely, we had absolutely nowhere to be and nothing to cook at home. With nerves shot and a strong desire to not have to stand at a stove, I drove past a buffet and, with children-in-tow, decided to give it a go.
Into a somewhat nice, quiet restaurant enters me, exhausted and somewhat deflated, along with one extremely high energy boy and one older sister who tends to have little tolerance for said brother during the after school hour. Strict orders were given that should they misbehave, we were turning around and walking straight out of the restaurant, food eaten or not.
And then something incredible happened. After nearly two decades of turning my nose up at them, I discovered the secret gem that is a buffet.
For parents with kids who have an abundance of ants-in-the-pants, this is seriously the best thing ever. One of the biggest challenges of a high energy child is finding ways to keep that energy in check. In the case of my son, boredom means his creative juices are going to run like a broken faucet, filling the sink and spilling over to the floor and eventually leaking to the basement…unless he has an outlet. In his world, this outlet is movement…
BUFFETS OFFER MOVEMENT (cue the clouds parting and sunbeams coming down onto the restaurant).
Sure, this may yield spilled plates and jumping through the restaurant and I am not advocating sending your five year old up alone. However, for high energy kids, making them sit still for an hour feels like a form of modern day torture, this movement is beyond understated.
Lack of waiting
This one hits home with anyone with kids under the age of six. Sometimes, the most painful part of going out to eat with small children is the waiting game. Turn-around can be quick or extensive. Either way, finding something to keep the smaller kids from turning the salt into a bed of therapeutic sand or knives into light sabers can can cut short any adult conversation you may have been hoping to entertain. Not with a buffet.
Walk in, give a drink order and go to the buffet. This, right here, is magic.
Again, I am not saying this skill should not be learned. Patience is a virtue, but so are peace of mind and sanity. Do you make your small children sit at a table patiently and watch you cook dinner? No, that is insane. You call them in when dinner is ready.
If I am at a restaurant with my children, there is typically a reason behind it and that reason is NOT because I am looking forward to playing 15 sets of tic tac toe before the food arrives. With small(ish) kids, to be able to simply sit down and eat without the exhaustion of the waiting game is kinda awesome.
Pick their own food
This one is definitely a “you know your family” point. If you have the kid who will only eat fried food, maybe you want to intervene. The cool factor for my kids was “look at all the options!” They were amazed at the variety and that they could pick favorites and a couple of unknowns. I need to step in and put a limit on the number of crab rangoons each tries to sneak in but overall, this is a highlight for the kids.
From a growing/parenting point, this is allowing choice within limits (one veggie, not all rice, etc). They can begin, even in the smallest ways, to have some say in their world. For the kids who have trouble making a choice, a parent can guide them along. Many articles today are stating the value in giving choices for kids within a controlled environment. Buffets offer a way to do this, without the meltdown that all parents know food can cause.
Dessert in clear sight
Use this, especially for those carrot kids (the ones that chase after a reward). “Try one new food and you can get dessert.” “Good behavior and you can pick out dessert.” “Fill-in-with-whatever-the-lesson-is and you can have dessert.” This is an abstract concept at many restaurants but at a buffet, they can see it! It is there; they eyed it the whole time they were picking out their veggies.
They already knew they wanted the pudding and jello because THIS IS WAY BETTER than the pudding and jello at home because this is BUFFET pudding and jello and IT IS SO COOL you can get it here.
We all know it’s true and since this is ALWAYS the kid’s dessert of choice, use that to your advantage.
No judgement here.
Where are my sports mamas at?
Instead of ordering two meals because your kid is in the middle of a season and a balanced meal is about as filling as a pack of fruit snacks, welcome to the blessing of a buffet. To not spend the money on two plus meals is awesome; they can eat until they are full and both your kids and your wallet will thank you. Because many buffets offer kid prices, this is an additional value. If you are looking for a list of free and cheap options outside of buffets, you can refer to the Cincinnati Moms Blog Kids Eat Free daily guide.
Before letting them run rampant, if you are a sports mom, check out some nutritional guidelines for growing athletes. There are definite foods they should be consuming to support the work they put in. US Youth Soccer released a pretty detailed flyer on the nutritional needs of athletes. Pediatricians can also provide more detail on what your child needs nutritionally, as sometimes an endless appetite can be a sign of a missing nutritional need.
“Is it too late now to say sorry?” (credit to Bieber)
So, to the buffets of the past twenty years, I am sorry. You are a GEM.
So, to the buffets of the past twenty years, I am sorry. I had no idea you would be a saving grace after a particularly gnarly weekend. We will be back, my kids will be behaved and all parties involved will leave happy. For anyone still totally judging the buffet, give it a try with kids (full disclosure, my youngest is five and that may matter) and see if you change your mind, also.
Below are some buffets our contributors and friends have suggested. Add your favorites in the comments below!
China Town Buffet in Milford
Cici’s Pizza multiple locations
Frisch’s Big Boy multiple locations
Golden Corral multiple locations
Hibachi Grill in Beechmont
Jade Buffet in Springdale
Johnny Chan’s (lunch buffet) at Harper’s Point
New Krishna in Sharonville
Twin Dragon Buffet and Grill on Tylersville