It’s time to ditch the “kids menu”!
Don’t get me wrong–there are many food and eating trends that dietitians like me cringe at, especially when they involve quick-fix diets, deprivation, or avoiding entire food groups. And then there are weird ones that never catch on (like congealed salads – yep, it was briefly a thing). But there are also many trends that we love (and that have had staying power, thank goodness). Think plant-based eating, hemp hearts and one-pan meals!
With positive food trends comes increased knowledge about nutrition in general. Heck – I remember the first time I ate an avocado and now it’s one of the most common foods offered to babies starting solids! And baby-led weaning was a trend that is now mainstream, and garnering more attention and research! Amazing right?
Every year there are predicted food trends. This year Whole Foods announced that one of the food trends for 2020 is “rethinking the kids menu”. I jumped for joy! In my opinion, if there is one food trend that you NEED to follow this year, it’s this.
Let’s Ditch the “kids menu”
One of the biggest nutrition and feeding myths is that kids will only choose and enjoy foods from the “kids menu”. Sure, once in a while ordering chicken fingers and fries is ok, but the typical “child-friendly” restaurant choices really limit our kids’ opportunities to expand their palates. It’s important for kids to branch out and order something off the regular menu sometimes – or even for you to share something with them! You might be surprised at what your child will try. Ordering a bunch of appetizers or going to a tapas restaurant is a fun way to expose your child to new and different foods. My kids and I love ordering sushi and trying to navigate chop sticks! It’s all about having family fun.
Here are three reasons why typical “kids’ menus” need to go:
1. They lack nutrition:
Let’s face it. We all know that kids menu options are less nutritious and higher in things like salt and saturated fat. They’re also often really bland, which really limits our kids’ opportunities to learn to love a variety of foods and flavours. Think about it… the options for sides often only include french fries, mashed potatoes, or corn. Freezer department chicken fingers and hamburgers shouldn’t be the only option we give our kids. They deserve better and more nutritious food than this! I’m already seeing more sophisticated and nutritious options popping up for kids in restaurants, which is fantastic. Things like grilled salmon, sushi, stir-fries, salads and roasted chicken. What would make sense to me is to offer “kid-size servings” of all of the nutritious options on menus, instead of having a separate kids menu. We do our children a disservice if we only present them with four or five nutrient-void, deep fried or super bland options.
2. They create a unhealthy distinction between “adult food” and “kid food”
What makes a kids menu a kids menu? Yes, portions tend to be smaller, but generally speaking, kids’ menus are made up of “kid food” (like boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, cheese burgers or chicken nuggets) while the adult menu is comprised of “adult food” (more sophisticated, nutritious and varied). This sends the message that certain foods are meant for them, and others for their parents; kids eat one type of food and adults eat another. Who’s to say that a child wouldn’t really enjoy a beet and goat cheese salad, or grilled tuna and broccolini?
As a pediatric dietitian, I often talk about the importance of family meals, modelling healthy eating, and serving a variety of foods, tastes and textures. Obviously eating out at a restaurant is different and fun, but when there are clearly “kid options” and “adult options”, it contributes to “dumbing down” kids palates, and does not give them an opportunity to grow their eating competence or confidence in being able to learn to love a variety of foods. Adults tend to assume that all their kids will eat are options off the “kids menu” and unfortunately, kids start to assume that too!
3. They can exacerbate picky eating tendencies:
Here’s the truth: kids’ menus do NOT help parents of picky eaters. Setting kids up to only choose from the kids menu most certainly limits their food preferences. There’s a lot of literature to support the fact that early exposure to various flavours and tastes increases the chances of kids preferring a wider variety later on. Awesome right? Have you ever avoided a restaurant because they didn’t have a kids menu and worried what your child wouldn’t eat? If we ditch the “kids menu mentality” we will help encourage our kids to be brave and try new and different food, which is especially important for picky eaters! Bonus – if they see you eating a similar food they are more likely to try it and (eventually) accept it!
Ditch the kids menu and do this instead:
- Order from the adult menu and ask for a few side plates. Let’s face it – adult portions are huge, so why not share with your little ones! This way everyone get’s a taste of what’s ordered.
- Let your kid’s order from the adult menu, but just ask for smaller portions. Most restaurants will accommodate your request!
- Ask for a takeaway container WITH your child’s meal. Pack up some of the portion and you’ve got lunch ready to go for the next day!
- Don’t forget to check out the appetizer menu. Tonnes of items come in pre-portioned servings. Why not order something like sliders (mini hamburgers), fish tacos, and a salad to share!
Eating out as a family should be fun! And shouldn’t be limited to the local burger joint. I’m not suggesting taking your kids to a fancy restaurant full of breakables – it’s important to be realistic. But why not expand their palate with sushi, greek or italian food! They might surprise you.