Thankfully, our daughter is out of restaurant no-man’s land; you know, that period of time when kids are too old to eat off of your plate but too young to order off the adult menu and are, therefore, left in an uncertain zone of weird kids meal combinations, like macaroni and cheese and fries. Even worse than those odd pairings of carbs with carbs are the numerous synonyms for the exact same foods: chicken tenders, chicken planks, chicken fries, chicken nuggets, chicken bites, popcorn chicken, and chicken poppers. C’mon, now. It’s all deep fried chicken and whether you serve it with applesauce or apple slices or a fresh apple does not matter.
Serving such mundane fare apparently requires a little creativity, hence the cute little paperboard boxes kids’ food comes in at most fast food places. It’s bad enough that my child is going to eat fried chicken — again! — but is it really necessary to put the food, which takes up about two inches of space, into a box that would hold ten servings? And inside that box is a trendy plastic toy, wrapped in plastic, and containing some sort of small battery that cannot be removed from the toy for recycling (or, if it can be removed, I have yet to discover how).
Unfortunately, eating in a sit-down restaurant is not much better. As soon as the hostess notices someone under the age of 13 with you, she offers you a colorful kids’ menu that comes with its own individually wrapped 4 pack of crayons. Then, unless you request that your child get a real glass, they assume your child, even your eleven year old, is incapable of drinking from anything other than a styrofoam cup with a plastic lid and straw. One night, my family was eating at an Olive Garden (one of our favorite restaurants), and I counted 7 children in the immediate area where we were seated. Six of those seven, regardless of age, were drinking from styrofoam cups. The only child drinking from a real glass was our child, who, incidentally, would be offended by the notion that she needs a lid on her drink. I started thinking . . . 7 kids in our area of the restaurant . . . at least four other areas in the place . . . about 35 kids . . . 35 styrofoam cups used in one hour in just that one restaurant. Why? Are we so terrified that our child might spill something (insert overly-dramatic gasp here) that we cannot survive without a plastic lid on their drinks? Are we so terrified that they may drop a glass onto the floor and break it that we would rather live dependent on plastic and styrofoam? (By the way, glass, whether completely intact or broken, can be recycled over and over and over.
Still, as much as I hate the excess packaging, I do sometimes buy my daughter a kid’s meal. We are pretty fond of Chik-fil-a kids’ meals right now, because they offer a fresh fruit cup instead of fries and a book instead of a toy. Not that my daughter reads the books. Oh, no. She reads novels, the likes of Harry Potter and The Mysterious Benedict Society. But I’ve always felt a book is a valuable thing, and I know exactly what to do with the books that my daughter gets and does not read. I throw them in an old shoe box (the perfect storage and shipping container, if I do say so myself) and wait until the box is full, then I mail the box of books to my good friend who teaches kindergarten in an inner-city Charlotte school. She puts them in her “prize box,” which gets them in the hands of young readers and gets them out of my house without putting them in the landfill. Sometimes I slip other things in the box, too, like an unused coloring book or a cd my daughter doesn’t listen to anymore. And, of course I always slip a note in there for my friend, telling her what an awesome teacher she is and how very, very much we love her. I mail the package “book rate” which is cheaper than other mailing rates, although it does usually take more than a week for the books to end up in her mailbox.
Even if you don’t have a BFF who teaches kindergarten, I’m sure the local elementary school would love your unused kids’ meal books. Or, you could save them all year and either put them in your own shoeboxes or donate them to a local church for Operation Christmas Child. The same thing can be done with almost all unopened kid’s meal toys, not just books.
I am including a link to an interesting bit of photojournalism called “Photos of Children from around the World with their Most Prized Possessions” at the end of this post. I hope you will visit the site which shows young children in their homes with their favorite possessions arranged around them. Amid the typical toy cars, dolls, and building blocks, it’s both eye-opening and heart-breaking to see the child from Malawi who has three stuffed animal toys, and two of the three appear to be from a kids’ meal. Later in the piece, there is a picture of two sisters from Zanzibar, and in the assortment of toys at their feet, there also appears to be some small toys from kids’ meals. Later, we see a young boy from Morocco, who has three small paperback books as part of his “prized possessions.” I don’t know the story behind how these children got their toys, but I do know that there are things Americans throw away daily that would be considered a blessing to someone else somewhere else. It’s not much work for me to turn down a styrofoam cup, or decline a kid’s menu, or save some little toys until a shoebox is full and ready to be mailed. It’s not much work at all for me, as an English teacher, to send children’s books to a kindergarten teacher who needs them for her students. Yes, it’s a tiny bit more work than mindlessly consuming and discarding . . . but that little bit of extra effort on my part is worth it if it means not only a greener world, but perhaps a happier world, too.
Photograph by Gabriele Galimberti.
Copyright 2014 Lori Creed