I believe that our children deserve much better than the often nutrient-poor, starch-laden food offerings found on a typical kid’s menu.
I don’t even need to see the menu; I already know. Many restaurants we go to, no matter how unique the cuisine, have one thing in common. A selection of nutrient-poor, cheese and starch-laden food offerings for children.
Sure, I get why this may sometimes be the case in food service:
#1 “It would be a total shame to waste more expensive food on tiny fickle eaters who seldom finish their plates.”
#2 “Macaroni and cheese is all some children eat. Parents expecting to find this on the kid’s menu might be angry and choose to eat elsewhere if we don’t include it.”
#3 “Kids don’t like “grown up” foods, so why offer them and spend time creating dishes they won’t enjoy?”
Here’s the thing though. If we never offer our children healthier, “grown up” foods they will take a much longer time appreciating REAL nutritious food!
That is why I believe our children deserve much better than what can be found on a typical kid’s menu. Just like adults of all ages, children have a right to quality, healthy, and delicious food. Unlike adults, they can’t simply whip up avocado toast and a kale smoothie on their own in the kitchen — they rely on their parents and their community to feed them well.
I recently read about the term “childism“ which can be viewed as sending children a message that they are less important (often done unintentionally) by forgetting that they too deserve equality and respect. This usually refers to the fact that we talk to them like children rather than equals. I also find childism quite apparent in the way that we feed children in our culture too. How would you feel being offered the same foods over and over again?
Before reading on, take a moment to consider a few “typical” foods for children (don’t peek below!).
Did any of the following make your list?
- Chicken nuggets
- French fries
- Hot dogs
- Corn dogs
- Cheese Pizza
- Tater Tots
- Fish sticks
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Juice box
How would you rate the nutritional quality of these foods (which are typically found on children’s menus too if you have not guessed, usually alongside slightly redeeming apple slices or carrot sticks)?
Typical kid’s foods are teaching our children that it is okay not to eat vegetables, while teaching them to love processed foods full of refined flour and harmful additives. I don’t believe this is our direct intention, but in a nation where healthcare costs and children’s waistlines are both increasing, it begs to be addressed. The foods that children are exposed to in their childhood are instrumental for instilling healthy eating habits that will last well into the future.
We very seldom order for our son off off the kid’s menu. We let him eat what we are eating or work with the restaurant staff to come up with a custom dish for him (sometimes this is even cheaper!). Because we have always made a point to do so, my young son enjoys many foods not typical to many children, such as lentils and injera (an Ethiopian flatbread), falafel and hummus, spinach and fruit salads, tofu and mixed vegetables, pho noodle soup, and more.
While he does get the occasional mac and cheese, this is not the only option that we see for him when ordering off the menu.
While a child’s food preferences start at home, in a country where nearly a quarter of the population eats out once per week and only 10% of us actually like to cook, restaurants are key players in the child nutrition game too.
Can we find a solution?
Why not offer healthier, yet TASTY menus for kids? So many parents will love it! Children will too! I asked my son what his dream restaurant menu would be and he said a raspberry and peanut butter roll up with carrots to dip (in something!). Our kiddos deserve a voice and when they change, parents do too!
Another idea. Why not give a percentage off of any adult entree on the menu for kids (with a smaller portion)?
After a little research I was pleased to stumble upon the BeanSprouts Cafe, “a hip and healthy cafe serving family destinations.” Here are a few of their kid’s menu offerings (all served with veggie tots):
- Zucchini, red pepper, and olive pizza
- A grilled cheese and veggie sandwich
- Avocado hummus and veggie dippers
- Tuna salad with veggies
While still kid-friendly, these menu choices encourage vegetables, heart healthy fats, and variety. I would love to see many other restaurants following suit.
I realize there are restaurants out there that have gone above and beyond to offer kid-friendly, nutritious menu items (if you know of one, please comment below). I also realize that there are probably parents (and children) who really do want to see the same, tried and true, food choices when they go out to eat.
As parents, we must advocate for the health of our children.
One way to do this is by creating and supporting nutritious, kid-friendly menu choices at home and in our communities.