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Surviving Chuck E. Cheese

May 20, 2014

Parental food hysteria is getting whipped into a frenzy thanks to the good folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. You know them: they’re the good people famous for measuring everything in units of Big Macs.

So a giant tub of movie popcorn with butter is something like twenty Big Macs and an average size takeout order from a Chinese restaurant is like ten Big Macs. For me, these reports always make it seem like a Big Mac must not be that bad for you. It’s a shame that I find the sandwiches entirely unappealing.

Anyway, now CSPI has its sights trained right between the ears of Chuck E. Cheese. And parents are outraged–outraged, I say–to learn that the food at this kid-centric emporium of fun is not only an insult to pizza, but also loaded with fat, sodium, calories and sugar. One mom is even calling for legislation and regulation. Dios mío.

Seriously, how many times do I get to be the voice of reason? Let’s try this out and see how it goes.

First, show of hands. Who here is surprised that a “typical” meal at Chuck E. Cheese consisting of two slices of pepperoni pizza, one soft drink (with a refill), and a piece of birthday cake is almost a thousand calories and has most of your kid’s sat fat and sodium for the day?

You know what I find surprising? It’s that the above list of foodstuffs is typical.

When I was a kid, I pretty much lived in video arcades. Pinball was my jam, but I had Pac-Man Fever with the best of them. And I went to more than my fair share of birthday parties at places very much like Chuck E. Cheese. Back in Miami there was a place called Riverboat Playhouse that strangely was the exact same thing but with a Mark Twain theme. We also had Castle Park (which I think had animatronic singing dragons) and a few other similar venues.

These were magical places to burn through tokens, to try and win more tokens via the video Draw Poker machines and the token pushing amusements, and, hopelessly, to try to guide Dirk the Daring to save the princess in Dragon’s Lair.

Now that I’m a parent, I want to share these things from my past with the little ones. Sadly, the once great institution of the video arcade has largely disappeared from the landscape. All we have left is Chuck E. Cheese.

Yes, the food is awful. Truly, truly awful. You don’t even need to try it to know. Just look at one of those pizzas as it makes its way across the floor. I shudder to even think about it.

Here’s the thing. Kids don’t love Chuck E. Cheese for the food. They love it because of the games. They love it because they can be loud and put tokens in things, and have some of those things spit tickets back out at you. They love taking those tickets and putting them in the ticket muncher, and then exchanging those precious hard-won tickets for completely worthless crap.

And you know what? They’ll do just about anything for the experience.

So I have made a deal with the little devils. I’ll buy them tokens. Heck, I buy them in bulk 100 tokens at a time. And we’ll get to Chuck E. Cheese as often as we can. There are just a few stipulations.

– We’re there to play games, we’re not eating that poor excuse for food
– If anyone gets hungry, we’ll leave and grab some better pizza elsewhere
– There is no whining or crying when we leave
– Whining or crying-on-departure means we’re not coming back
– That is not a hollow threat
– When I say it’s time to go, it’s time to go

There is never any asking for soda. That’s not a stipulation, that’s a direct consequence of how, as a parent, I have taught my kids about the stuff. They know it’s liquid candy. They even know that the stuff from the tap is full of dreck, and we have better choices at home. We’re still nursing our way through a real sugar six-pack of Dr. Brown’s cream soda I picked up during Passover. And we may go through about one twelve-ounce can of Pepsi Throwback a week.

It’s not that I deprive my kids of fat and sugar. They get plenty, thankyouverymuch. It just comes in the form of speck, handmade pizza, fantastic ice cream, and challah spread with Amish butter.

But I digress.

Chuck E. Cheese is great. The critics are asking to “Let Chuck E. Cheese know that we won’t be taking our kids to a place where their nutrition and health are disregarded.”

Can I tell you how many times in a frigid upstate NY winter, the Habitrail of the local Chuck E. Cheese was the one place the kids would get any robust physical activity? They were playing in those tubes until they were red in the face. We’d get a cup of water to rehydrate, play some video games, maybe a little skee ball, redeem our tickets and leave.

That was absolutely a healthy activity. Well, for the kids at least. That place is so loud, I generally leave with a headache. The kids don’t seem to mind, though. Maybe we could boycott Chuck E. Cheese to turn down the volume. My audiologist aunt must be histrionic about extended pediatric exposure to elevated decibel levels.

One of the many talking points that Chuck E. Cheese’s critics have gotten wrong are sentiments like the following:

Kids cannot make healthy choices alone. It is our job to help them. One thing we can do is to not take them to place like these, where the food is simply put, JUNK. Another thing we can do is demand that food with little or no nutritional value be removed from menus.

Yes, kids need guidance. But how can you teach them to make good choices in a world without temptation.

So let’s take the “typical” Chuck E. Cheese meal. Easy fixes would be to talk to your kid about swapping out pepperoni for cheese. That’s easily done by explaining exactly how that pepperoni is made. Maybe they don’t really need two slices, especially with the reminder that cake will be served. After all, at a birthday party eating cake is part of the fun, but there is still room for tradeoffs. Kids don’t have to eat all the cake, or they can swap out soda for water and enjoy a full piece.

In some ways, if you teach kids relatively good eating habits they become relatively self regulating. And if they have one birthday party binge it’s not the end of the world.

I had a particularly bad parenting moment recently where I took Little Miss Fussy to a buffet dinner and gave her free reign over the dessert table. That night she had five desserts. It made her sick. I felt awful. But guess what? She never wanted to do that again, so next time she was much more moderate.

Temptation is important. Tempering that with education is equally important. And the occasional lapse in pristine eating habits won’t give your kid the diabetes.

Sure, if Chuck E. Cheese had better food, they would make more money off people like me, but I’m hardly going to boycott them because they serve crap. That’s what they do. It would be like refusing to fly on an airline because it is reliant on unsustainable fossil fuels. This is madness, pure and simple. And I will not stand for it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2014 1:05 pm

    Well said!

    This LadyDeelG blog post is absurd and fortunately it is also representative of the typical busy-body/nanny state attitude that too many of a specific political slant have with regards to anything that is not fully regulated by government. Yes Chuck-E-Cheese is regulated as far as food& beverage business are regulated but the nanny state believer wants government to tell Chuck-E-Cheese how to run its business but without sharing in any of the costs of such forced changes should they result in higher costs and or lower sales.

    I am no fan of Chuck-E-Cheese in as far as the food & beverage it serves up but I am a fan of the free and open market. I believe that a free market where ideas are allowed to succeed or fail with as minimal intervention/regulation by government as possible is the best model available. While there are those persons/businesses that would operate in an unethical manner in the absence of regulation, they are in the minority. That said few business that operate unethically would last long in the age of the internet where consumers are able to instantly provide feedback to others. Before the internet you had few sources for researching customer satisfaction of some business. Today you need only ask and the internet answers. Those answer might not always be accurate but over the whole you are more likely to get the truth then a sale pitch from marketing.

    IMHO Government regulatory agencies do more harm than good and need to be either closed or greatly reduced in their size, and authority. Just as no government agency should be able to foreclose on someone’s property for non-payment of a tax no business should be beholden to a government regulatory agency if it wants to continue to stay open. I for one would rather take my chances with business in in an open & free market then a heavily regulated environment that is prone to corruption.

  2. CSPI can kiss my you know what permalink
    May 20, 2014 9:59 pm

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest should rename themselves to the Center for Pseudo-Science in the Interest of Left-Wing Anti-Capitalists.

    These freedom haters want to take away any choice I have that “they” consider harmful to my health. They are dead set on making sure the Federal Government has complete control over what can and can’t be eaten in America.

    Screw them and the horse they rode in on.

  3. May 21, 2014 1:18 am

    I have had many a headache at Chuck E. Cheese and the “no food just exercise” was not an option because we only went when invited for a birthday party. But the idea that you would take your kids there voluntarily, sort of a junior cross fit, is kind of intriguing. Fortunately, mine are now too old to try this out.

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