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Kiddie Meals

Kiddie Meals

On my mother’s most recent visit to check on the progress of my young son, as well as my parenting style, we all decided to head out for a twilight dinner at one of the area’s better restaurants. The menu was impressive on paper; with all matters of carefully selected ingredients to accent premium cuts of meat and wild fish. So as my eyes darted from wine list to appetizer options, I stumbled over what was labeled the “child’s menu”: A spiritless collection of starch-laden sustenance better suited as bar food than a meal for a growing child.

Selections were as follows:

Chicken Fingers with French Fries
Grilled Cheese with French Fries
Pasta with Butter and Cheese
Cheese Quesadilla

Now, I do understand the importance of “fun,” approachable foodstuff to keep the children from starving and cutting parent’s meals unnecessarily short, and I am not such a killjoy that I cannot appreciate the generosity of a free pack of crayons and disposable placemat. That said, why do restaurants, and the general population, repeatedly set the bar so miserably low when it comes to menu items for children?

I will not even address the obvious nutritional deficit that comes from plates piled high with deep-fried items like chicken fingers, and French fries. Instead, I will simply call foul on this seemingly indirect attempt to deaden my child’s developing palate and generally dumbing down the expectations of junior diners. I have seen children happily and ravenously inhale plates of calamari, bok choi, seaweed, blue cheese, venison, and grilled onions (not all in one sitting, mind you), and truly believe that children have the potential and ability to appreciate unique and highly nuanced flavors and textures just as much (if not more) than most adults do. They are a culinary tabula rasa, with likes and dislikes–sure, but without the ingrained gustatory prejudice that many adults hang onto for dear life.

By relegating our children to the Kiddie Menu ghetto, are we making it easy on everyone (child, fellow diners, pocketbook, restaurant owners, etc.?) or are we winding down a cynical road that will eventually dead end at a destination of possible obesity, health problems, food neurosis, and general bad taste?

My recommendation: Check out the kiddie menu, and then order your kid the grilled octopus. It is a lot more fun than a fist full of chicken fingers.

For more information, check out Fat Still on the Children’s Menu.

Read more: Blogs, Children, Eating for Health, Parenting at the Crossroads

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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12:04AM PDT on Mar 29, 2013


2:12PM PST on Jan 17, 2013

Parenting skills..........

Remember to "Click to Donate " daily

11:27AM PDT on Mar 26, 2012

Thanks Eric.

1:26PM PDT on Mar 16, 2011

When I was growing up in the 1950s the restuarants my parents chose often had a "child's plate" rather than a childrens' menu, so most items on the menu could be ordered in smaller serving sizes. I was exposed to...and usually enjoyed...a wide variety of ethnic specialities along with excellent American cooking, and developed the wide tastes I still enjoy today. I have never allowed a child eating with me to order any of these dreadful childrens' menu selections.

2:30PM PDT on Jun 24, 2010

When I was little, my parents frequented a Greek restaurant which had no children's menu. I ate escargot, which I simply called "garlic snails", from the age of eighteen months. The rest of the meal was eaten from my parents' plates - except for the slices of lemon I cheerfully ate from the water glasses!

8:40PM PDT on Jun 13, 2010

Sad, but true. And, then we wonder why obesity has become a childhood disease?

7:25PM PDT on Oct 4, 2008

I totally agree. We don't dine out much, but when we do, my son (age almost 3) eats from my plate. Those portions are more than I need anyway; and the kids' menu portions are usually too big for him--so I order us something not-too-spicy and we share! Solves both the portion and the price problems in one! When I cook at home, he eats what we eat--almost never a dumbed-down version of it--and I think he's a happier, healthier kid for it.

1:58PM PDT on Jun 18, 2008

I think certain restaurants try to sell you cheap food at high prices, but what they don't account for is that if you order off the regular menu for your kid, you'll probably spend more. In my opinion, your kids' health is worth spending a little extra on.

8:01AM PDT on Jun 2, 2008

Thanks for the comment Jennifer. I failed to mention portion size in my rant, but you are absolutely correct. Often times, restaurants serve "adult-sized portions" of chicken fingers and such to children that could only metabolize about half of that. Portion control is also a key issue. And kudos for being the subversive Aunt and introducing your nieces to new and healthy foods. Someone has got to do it!

7:22AM PDT on Jun 2, 2008

Your are SO right! I have noticed this tiome and again at restaurants. There are a few exceptions but not many. We should be giving our children smaller portions of what we eat and teaching them to appreciate something new and deliciously different. My neices love when they come over my house. Their mom doesn't cook much and I always have something natural and tasy I've baked or cooked for them to try. Last time was Pad Thai. Something that especially one loved. Now she would never have tried that otherwise. Before that was fig bars...yum.

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