Don’t get me wrong; I love my nieces. I just fear for them a little. One is seven and the other is four (I think), and they’ve never been exposed to real food, thanks to Chow, Sister’s penchant for doing the grocery shopping at fast-food drive-thrus. No, sis, ketchup is not a vegetable. My nieces are understandably ignorant of how food is supposed to taste. They think that liquids should be acidic and kind of burn their mouths, because all they ever drink is soda. They think hamburgers are supposed to be soggy and tacos should taste like Doritos. I had to do something.

They are both obsessed with princess tea parties, so I decided to use that as an opportunity to expose them to real food. Of course, I’d forgotten that they are both absurdly picky eaters, and taking them out in public is an exercise in cat-herding. But I won’t have their childhood diabetes on my conscience. So I picked up some plastic tiaras and scepters and herded the kittens down the rabbit hole.

Our first stop on the royal tour was McKinley’s Fine Bakery and Café (1616 South University Dr.), a ladies-who-lunch kind of café and looks every bit the sort of place to have a tea party. Its soft green and purple color scheme set the perfect mood for some high tea and finger foods. It’s a walk-up counter operation with an impressive assortment of baked goods.

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My little princesses initially refused to eat anything that wasn’t coated in sugar — of which McKinley’s has no shortage. So I agreed to allow them each their choice of pastry on the condition that they actually have something healthy as well. We agreed on an assortment of finger sandwiches of chicken salad, green chile pimiento cheese, and bacon-and-olive (75 cents each). The chicken salad was served on whole-grain bread, with celery, green onions, and sliced grapes and, bolstered by the sweetness of the grapes, stood out as the favorite of the little ladies. I was a huge fan of the pimiento cheese, which featured mild green chiles and poblano peppers and was stuffed between slices of fresh, marbled pumpernickel bread. The girls were right, though: The real treats were the desserts. The mini key lime tart ($3.50) was delicious, and the coconut cream pie ($2.50) was light, creamy, and incredibly fresh.

After that tea party, my nieces experienced what can only be described as tea-lust — I suspect that the rare meal of nourishing food created some kind of chemical reaction. Since they were relatively well behaved, I agreed to take them out again, this time to the Lunch Box (6333 Camp Bowie Blvd.). The tiny place was packed when we visited on a Saturday, and I noticed a crazed look in my nieces’ eyes. Maybe it was just sensory overload, but I kind of lost control of them. Eventually they stopped screaming and running around, and we settled in for some lovely egg salad sandwiches on wheat bread ($6.75), which they refused to eat. I didn’t particularly care about their health at that point: I just wanted to be rid of them, so I bought them each a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie (95 cents each) and inhaled the delicious sandwiches like a lion eating a gazelle.

I’m not sure who benefited more from our outings. The nieces ate one nourishing meal out of two. And I reaffirmed that for now parenthood is a spectator sport for me. I’ve got to come up with a better gimmick for civilizing them, though. Seeing me in a tiara in public apparently wasn’t a sufficient bribe for these princesses.

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