Pile it high, stuff it in. We all want our children to eat when they’re out. But sometimes the problem isn’t getting them to eat, but getting them to stop. And where we’re stowed, the temptation to indulge is so great that we’re at risk of sinking.
We’re on board Royal Caribbean International's vast Independence of the Seas. We’ve never walked up a gangway before but, with cruises becoming increasingly popular, we thought we’d give our sea legs a go.
The Independence boasts many facilities – including a huge climbing wall and a swimming pool where you can learn to surf. But at the heart of any voyage on such a mighty vessel is indulgence in its fabulous cuisine, and the array of options aboard this one is dizzying, ranging from Italians and a steakhouse to a cupcake bakery and the hugely popular Johnny Rockets burger bar.
At the core of it is the ubiquitous buffet. I know families who swear by buffets. They say that a good spread means everyone in the family will find something to eat. But I’ve never liked them. The deeply embedded English Puritan in me believes overindulgence isn’t to be encouraged in a child, not even on holiday.
At the Windjammer buffet restaurant on Independence, it’s temptation at its very worst – or rather, best. Everything is extremely tasty. My teenager headed straight for the carvery, piling her plate high with slabs of rare beef. One seven year old had two hot dogs with ketchup, the other pasta with rice, being a carbs fiend. It’s not surprising that the ship serves 18,000 slices of pizza a week.
It was fine when the twins were toddlers and incapable of going and helping themselves to three different cakes from the dessert counter as their first course. But now they’re ambulant, I spend most of the meal monitoring their plate content. Before you know it, your kid has eaten six hot dogs, seven cakes and an ice cream, not necessarily in that order.
So here on the Independence, where the menu is so varied (a Chinese food counter, curry counter, diner-style counter) and sumptuous (oysters and king prawns on ice), we’ve devised a buffet regime. The kids call it, ‘Sit on bum, wait for Mum’. Although we take it in turns to go up and help ourselves, we have to sit at the table and wait for each other, just as if we’d been served together by a waiter. That way, with all our plates in front of us, it looks weird if one of us opens with a cream puff while others have a starter of tomato salad. So we begin a meal with our war cry – ‘Sit on bum, wait for Mum’ – like another family might say grace. Then we tuck in.
Our system works, to a point. But thank goodness the on-board Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlour isn’t a buffet.
See also our guide to family cruise holidays, including hand-picked recommendations and expert tips.