I saw this in today’s NPR news and it got me thinking about the issue of kids’ meals in restaurants, which I think needs to be discussed more.
Let me just start by saying that as the parent of a pretty picky child, I completely, 100% understand the challenge of tailoring meals to kids. It is NOT always easy to get children to eat the same foods that adults eat, and if you offer kids a salad, there’s a good chance many won’t eat it. That said, I think there are many things that restaurants CAN do in this area, and I heartily applaud the restaurants that do.
For me personally, there is a difference between my expectations at a fast food chain versus at a sit-down restaurant. Eating a burger and french fries is just kind of what you do when you’re at Wendy’s. Not to say fast food restaurants can’t update their menus and change their ways, but to some extent each place has the thing they do, and if you don’t like it, go elsewhere. Where I get angrier is at mid-range and higher end restaurants that put care and thought into their adult menu and absolutely none into their children’s menu. Often they take the easy way out and keep separate, generic kid foods to offer on the kids’ menu, and if a parent wants to craft an assortment of sides, the price goes sky high.
So what do I as a parent want to see on the children’s menu? It’s not very hard. I want to see the best of what is on the adult menu, only simplified. Mexican restaurant? Offer us all the contents of a fajita, only separated and with the sauce on the side. Salad joint? Let the kids pick 3 of the salad ingredients to have for their meal. In my experience, SEPARATION is one of the keys to getting kids to eat more things. They often don’t like things jumbled together, but might try them on their own.
When the main course for kids is chicken strips, pasta, or other kid-friendly food, reduce the portion and put it with A VEGETABLE OR FRUIT SIDE (and French fries are not a vegetable…). If green beans, broccoli, carrots, or other simple vegetables appear somewhere on the menu, they should be part of the kids’ meals.
Shout out to a couple of restaurants that I feel do a good job with the kids.
On the cheaper end, Chipotle offers the kids’ a make-your-own plate with a piece of fruit on the side. We usually get black beans, cheese, and rice or guacamole, and that makes a pretty balanced meal.
There’s another Charlotte restaurant called Firebirds that I think does a great job with their kids’ menu. They offer options for kids who might be up for something a little more sophisticated (not all kids are picky!!), as well as simple things for the less adventurous. You can get a vegetable or fruit side, and a small dessert so you’re not faced with the problem of ordering dessert. Here it is, from their website:
Entrées include the choice of two sides, a complimentary Oreo® cookie packet and a beverage. For kids 12 and under.
- MAHI TACOS
Grilled fish with creamy cabbage and avocado pico
- GRILLED CHICKEN BREAST
Buttermilk and cilantro marinated gilled over hardwood
- KID’S FILET MEDALLIONS
Tenderloin wood grilled and sliced
- WOOD GRILLED MAHI
Simply grilled mahi
- SHRIMP TACOS
Grilled shrimp with creamy cabbage and pineapple salsa
- HALF RACK OF RIBS
Tender, wood fired Ribs with BBQ Sauce
- SMOKED CHICKEN WINGS
Flash fried smoked wings
- Plain, BBQ or Hot
- MAC & CHEESE
Noodles tossed with homemade cheese sauce
- KIDS BURGER WITH CHEESE
Flattop grilled burger with brioche bun, lettuce and tomato
- CHICKEN FINGERS WITH HONEY MUSTARD
Hand breaded in tempura and flour
- SIDES: FRESH VEGGIES, GREEN BEANS, FRESH FRUIT, FRENCH FRIES, MAC & CHEESE, PARMESAN MASHED POTATOES.
So while it’s good to offer up a challenge fast-food restaurants, as Panera is doing, I wouldn’t expect kids’ food from McDonalds to be vastly different from the adult food, and nuggets and fries is kind of what you get at McDonalds. It’s the restaurants where adults expect fresher, carefully prepared food that should be held to a higher standard. So come on, restaurants, up your game!!!