Great times, bad food

Chicken Shack

Great times, bad food.  That about sums up my recent Toronto Zoo & Canada’s Wonderland experiences.

When we left Edmonton on July 29th, we didn’t head straight for Egypt.  Since we wouldn’t be returning to Canada until next summer (and it was easier for my wife’s school to book our flights from Toronto), we had planned a 2 week stopover in Southern Ontario to visit with family and friends before our departure.

Last Saturday we went to the Toronto Zoo with our friends and their two and a half year old daughter.  Then on Tuesday we took our thirteen year old niece to Canada’s Wonderland for the day.  We had a blast at both venues.  Wonderland was especially fun – we did 10 rides, including the tallest roller coaster in Canada, and spent a few hours in their water park.

Toronto Zoo Food

typical menu at Toronto Zoo food vendor

The only real negative I could find on either day was the food.  And frankly, the options available at both places were terrible.  Pizza, burgers, fries and ice cream as far as the eye could see but virtually no fresh fruits or vegetables to be found.  I’d love to see someone document the amount of “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” options available at these parks.  I’d guess that 5% are healthy options – and that may even be generous.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the dismal food environments at these venues, but I honestly was.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t have my own kids so I don’t visit these types of “family-focused parks” that often?  Or maybe, it’s because of my background that my expectations for these sorts of things are skewed?  I’m not sure. Either way, it was disappointing.

I’ll begin my rant with the Toronto Zoo.  Their website actually lists a decent amount of healthy options available at their various food vendors.  Check ’em out here.  If you looked at this menu before going there you’d think there were plenty of nutritious foods available on-site, including wraps, fresh sandwiches, salads, and seasonal fruit.  Unfortunately, my actual experience was quite different.

It seemed as though every kiosk or cart we passed exclusively sold junk food.  Virtually every family we saw were eating it.  It was disheartening seeing all these kids eating so much junk.  And unfortunately we weren’t much better.  We decided to stop for lunch at the Africa Restaurant.  Admittedly, it was incredibly chaotic inside but before I knew it I was being asked to take my order.  After quickly scanning the menu, all I could see were – big surprise – pizza, burgers and fries.  I opted for a slice of pizza and a bottle of water.  I was shocked when I got home and checked their online menu and found that they also supposedly offered wraps and salad at this restaurant.  Their healthier options must have been either “hidden” somewhere on the corner of the menu or they weren’t on it at all.  Not great.

On our way out of the zoo we did note that one restaurant, the Peacock Cafe seemed to feature a few more healthy options a little more prominently, so I stopped inside to snap a couple of pictures.  While by no means the healthiest of menus, it at least legitimately offered a few good options.  It’s only a shame that this restaurant was the exception rather than the rule.

Peacock Cafe menu

Peacock Cafe menu

Fresh Fruit at the Peacock Cafe.  Would've preferred that it wasn't positioned next to the candy, but at least its there!

Fresh Fruit at the Peacock Cafe. Would’ve preferred that it wasn’t positioned next to the candy, but at least its there!

One thing I can commend the Toronto Zoo for is at least they allow visitors to bring in their own outside food for a picnic.  In addition to our pizza slices for lunch we actually also brought in some fresh fruit and granola bars as snacks.  Unfortunately, Canada’s Wonderland was a different story.  Not only are the food options arguably much worse than the Toronto Zoo’s (pizza, burgers, fries, ice cream PLUS funnel cakes, candied apples, candy corn, etc, AND fewer fresh options), but the only “food” they allow into the park are bottled water and baby food.  They actually have staff checking people’s bags as they enter the gates and throwing out any “illegal” food that they may bring in.  This really angered me.

enjoying my apple at our Car in Canada's Wonderland parking lot

enjoying my apple at our car in Canada’s Wonderland parking lot

Now of course the park does state that families can always go back outside the park to their “picnic area” to consume their own food.   The picnic area we saw consisted of a small strip of grass right beside the busy drop-off area in the parking lot, with zero picnic tables.  Not the most appealing place for a family picnic.  I can only imagine how popular you’d be with your kids if that’s where you told them they’d be eating lunch.  I get that parents are ultimately responsible for making sure their kids are eating well, so they have to make these types of tough choices, but why does it have to be so hard?  Rather than making the “healthy choice the easy choice”, Canada’s Wonderland has effectively made the unhealthy choice, the only choice.  And given today’s climate and childhood obesity epidemic, at best this is shameful.  Some have even asked the question whether or not their food policy is entirely legal?  They need to do better.

Picnic Area outside of Canada's Wonderland

Picnic Area outside of Canada’s Wonderland

At the end of the day, I still had a great time at both venues, but it wasn’t as great as it could have been.  The reason for this – bad food.

ps. it may be a couple of weeks before my next post.  We’re flying to Cairo on Aug 15 and it may take a little while before we get our internet set up over there.  Until then!

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2 comments

  1. Reuben Sutherland · February 2, 2014

    Why don’t you do a documented report then and leave it to some phantom? These are private businesses and they will put candy beside fruit if they want because they pay the bills in their place. I sure hope it’s legal because what’s so illegal about it? I found the food very good and it was unhealthy but it’s a privately run park built on making money. Not a public service facility. Stay home if it bothers you so much and go the local playgrounds or open up your own Wonderland and you can do all those things you want.

    • marcusoneill79 · February 2, 2014

      While I appreciate the comment, obviously I disagree. Aside from my disappointment with the healthy food options at both locations, the thing that angered me most was Wonderland’s policy not to allow outside food past their gates. They are clearly setting up barriers for me (and some others) to choose the types of foods that we’d prefer to eat. It shouldn’t have to be this difficult to eat healthy anywhere, let alone a venue that caters towards kids/families.

      I suggest you read the link provided if you are curious as to why the author asks whether or not this practice should be legal.

      http://www.weightymatters.ca/2012/09/parental-no-files-canadas-wonderland.html

      Your perception that in order for an organization to make money by selling food it must be unhealthy is a common one. I just don’t happen to necessarily believe it. Making money and providing healthy food don’t have to be mutually exclusive. What is does take is a shift in how businesses operate and view food service….. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23149122

      And finally, I obviously don’t live anywhere near the GTA anymore, but I can say that Wonderland’s food policy/practices would without a doubt cause me to look elsewhere to spend my entertainment dollars.

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