Chicken nuggets or fish fingers?

We’ve just returned from a 3 night break in Ras Al Khaimah, staying at The Banyan Tree in a beach pool villa. Jealous, much? Well in theory, you should be. But how about if I tell you that both me and my husband are sick and kept eachother awake half the night coughing? And that just as we both finally dropped off each night, our darling little boy sleeping at the other end of the room would initiate his much-loved ‘shout out to the masses’ sleep-talkings, and wake us up at least twice more during the night just for sh*ts and giggles? How about the fact that we were summoned daily, exhausted, somewhere between 5.30 and 6.30am, by a little voice announcing he was getting in the bed and then proceeding to jump on us and shout ‘wake up mummy!’ until I gave in and put the light on?

Holidays are certainly not what they used to be. In fact a small part of me that I refuse to acknowledge for fear of never going anywhere ever again says staying at home is significantly easier. In the evenings whist our son slept in the villa we sat in semi-darkness on the somewhat windy and rather cool-for-the-time-of-year beach, eating our room service as fast as possible so we could get back in the warm. Our nightly routine involved silent peeing and tooth-brushing without breathing in the open plan bathroom, followed by dressing in child-proof night gear and reading until we could barely keep our eyes open (approximately 9.30pm). Hardly the stuff of Mills and Boon.

Days we would have traditionally spent lazing on a sun bed or at the spa were instead a frenzy of activities based mainly around trying to ensure our son didn’t hit his head on anything sharp, fall off anything high, or drown in the pool. I had brought a limited number of toys with me on the basis that we would be spending our time building elaborate sand castles and frolicking in the waves. However, the horrific six foot sandbank that greeted us when we walked down to the sea put paid to my romantic notions of wiggling our toes in the gently lapping water – and the dredged sand that made up the ‘beach’ was full of broken shells sharp enough to cut diamonds, and didn’t really lend itself to the reconstruction of Camelot. So we were left with a bit of a gap in the schedule. Fortunately it didn’t matter over such a short time and we compensated with long walks, shell collecting and swimming in the gorgeous little pool on our deck. Aside from the lack of sleep, we had a lovely few days together as a family and it was well worth it to get out of Dubai for a few days.

Frozen Foster Farms breast nuggets.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner of Champions, apparently

But the food! HOTEL PEOPLE OF THE WORLD: Children cannot eat chicken nuggets and fishfingers for lunch and dinner every day for 3 days, or 5, or a fortnight. Well, actually I’m sure they can – but seriously, this is not the first 5 star hotel to offer such a limited menu for children, and I don’t understand why we as parents accept it and then worse still, pay a premium for it. Why doesn’t anyone ever say ‘we’ll serve your kid whatever you like off the menu, in a half portion’? Or, just a suggestion, how about offering choices that include vegetables or something that’s grilled instead of fried?  How about offering an actual sandwich, with good things inside it, instead of some sloppy greasy melted cheese thing? And why does EVERYTHING have to come with fries?

Putting together a child’s menu appears to be very simple for most establishments. If you can fry it, put it on the list. Ta Da! A typical kids menu is born! So, because I refuse to let my son think he can eat this crap every mealtime when we are on holiday, along with the clothes, toys, books, potty, emergency blow up bed in case he wouldn’t sleep on the hotel bed, his favourite duvet, beach buckets and spades, music, dvd player and ipad, I also brought with me a tin of sweetcorn, some cut up raw veg, fresh brown bread rolls, peanut butter, marmite, jam, raisins, yoghurt, snack bars, fresh blueberries, raspberries, bananas and a couple of pears to fill in the gaps between the fishfingers and chicken nuggets.

For the record, putting together a menu that pleases parents AND children really isn’t all that hard, and the kitchen doesn’t have to work much harder either, nor does it cost them any more than buying in all that frozen rubbish. Below is my suggestion, the start of a campaign to encourage better holiday food for children. If you call yourself 5 star and child friendly, never mind about the kids clubs and the pool – start with the basics of providing good quality food. It would make such a difference.

Meat and 2 veg:1 choice of meat/fish from the following: Grilled chicken, Sausages (proper ones, not bloody hotdogs), Fishfingers, Salmon, Home made chicken nuggets or Home made burger

2 choices from the following: Fries, sweetcorn, tomatoes, baked beans, peas, mashed potato, sweet potato, broccoli, carrots, pasta, noodles, rice

Soup of the day & a sandwich: Choose fillings from Tuna mayo, PB&J, Cheese, Ham, Soft cheese, Egg, Marmite

Pasta: w/sauce options as per the adult menu

Dessert: Yoghurt, Fresh fruit (a variety, not just melon, which no-one ever eats), Ice cream, Apple crumble & custard

Snacks: Crudites with hummus or yoghurt dip

Also available: Mini-pizzas, Omeletes, scrambled egg or boiled egg with toast

See? Not difficult, not expensive, just better. Which is where a luxury hotel should really be aiming for.

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