The everpresent kids’ menu

America is in the grips of a nefarious chicken-finger pandemic, in which a blandly tasty foodstuff has somehow become the de facto official nibble of our young. "Far from being an advance, I've concluded, the standard children’s menu is regressive, encouraging children (and their misguided parents) to believe that there is a rigidly delineated 'kids' cuisine' that exists entirely apart from grown-up cuisine."

I never understood this. When I was little, we all at the same thing for dinner. No one got a special meal. I don't remember having a different menu when we went out to dinner either. For those readers with kids out there: is it possible to get your children to order off the adult menu? Or do they resist?

13 thoughts on “The everpresent kids’ menu

  1. We’ve always fed our son what we eat and have tried to steer clear of so called kid menus both at home and in restaurants. The result is that at two and a half, our son eats a huge variety of food compared to many of his peers. While he has definite likes and dislikes, he shows no fear in trying new foods, and eats everything from caviar to kimchee. And of course he eats hot dogs, fried chicken, and hamburgers too, but he eats them when we eat them as opposed to every day. Looking around at our peers many families seem to be grouped at extremes—on one side are the parents who only allow their kids super healthy all organic diets (we know plenty of 2 year olds who have never eaten ice cream or had a peppermint) and on the other side are parents who only feed their kids so called kid foods (hot dogs, chicken fingers, mac and cheese). The funny thing is that both sets of parents are shocked by our son’s enthusiasm for food…

  2. As a child I HATED any kind of children’s menu, or kid’s table at holidays—thought it smacked of second-class citizenship, I guess… or maybe I just didn’t like being a kid? Anyway, it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never pushed (and rarely even offered) a kids’ menu to my daughters, or a different dinner at home, or anything of the sort. Now 12 and 10, they’re enthusiastic omnivores who will eat skewered beef hearts or tripe soup as readily as chocolate chip cookies or a plate of pasta.
    Notable exception to the kid’s menu thing: the excellent rib/fried chicken place Rack and Soul on 109th and Broadway, which offers kid-size (but still substantial) portions of the same food for about half the price.

  3. Our daughters, now 13 and two instances of 11, have never particularly liked “kiddie food”, and when they were little we were very good at finding restaurants that offered half portions or let two girls share one entree without . Now they eat adult portions, of course, or more when they’re having a growth spurt. This reminds me of the restaurant I used to patronise as a student, serving normal portions as well as toddler size (25%), kid size (50%), senior size (75%) and teenager size (125%) at proportional prices. They’d puree the toddler size, too, if required. It’s disappeared from the face of the earth, worse luck.

  4. My daughter too eats what we eat. As a child we ate what was given to us for dinner and never ate off the “kids menu” at restaurants. I was like Scott, I hated the thought that I was “just a kid” and would often order the weirdest thing on the menu just to have something “adult”. This often resulted in a great meal that I otherwise would never have had.
    We often get random comments and odd looks when we order our daughter a salad or a vegetable plate (at 2 she thinks “meat is yucky”). We have even been told “you know we have a kids menu”. I think it not only sets kids up for bland eating in the future but it also seems to send the message that it’s “all about you” and frankly I’m not a caterer so I’m not making two dinners! 🙂

  5. We have so many kids, the kids menu can be a key value. It is also valuable from the portion size perspective. Our kids, however, have full access to the adult menu any time they want. Sometimes they want small and familiar and sometimes they crave something more unfamiliar and/or larger. It has become a right of passage to order from the adult menu, too.
    Not all kid menus stick to the dreaded nuggs. Many offer smaller portions of adult entrees. Most restaurants will also split adult meals for you, packing half to go before serving. This is especially true if your kids are well behaved, tidy and respectful of servers. We have found that bonafied ethnic restaurants (v. the Spaghetti-n-Sushiteria places) are really welcoming to large families. A look at what we do:

  6. My daughter is fourteen months old now, and ever since we were given the go-ahead to start her on solid food we’ve been giving her smaller portions of the same stuff we server ourselves. The only exceptions are those evenings when we’re having steak or something similar that we feel a little iffy about giving to her medium-rare.
    I think balance is key.

  7. I have to chuckle over the parents who insist on feeding their two-year-olds only organic this or that, and forbid processed sugar and the like. All of that will go by the wayside in Preschool. If you keep them out of preschool, then guaranteed in elementary school your kid will be trading his cheese sticks for Kraft Snackables. Kids want to eat what the other kids are eating, and unfortunately here in this country, kids are eating a lot of crap. My own experience is that while I want my kids to eat widely, sometimes it’s just to exhausting and fine, eat a damn hot dog so you get some food into you. I’ve also noticed that if you have a wide variety of “grown up” food around, by 10 or so they start to move out of the kid food phase. That said, I also know some middle-aged men and women who are still as picky as three-year-olds, so go figure.

  8. This issue had the potential to turn into a real battle at our house. Since taking my purchasing and culinary math at culinary school, I absolutely refuse to allow my kids to order grilled cheese sandwiches or mini pizzas from the kids menus at restaurants.
    $4.00 for a grilled cheese sandwich and fries!!!
    We have a 9-year-old daughter and a 8-year-old son. They both are finicky, but less so than some other kids we’ve seen. They both understand that they can’t live on bread, meat, and cheese.
    We’ve even made the two of them responsible for dinner on Wednesday nights. That has changed the dinner-time dynamic a lot. Now, I get to say things like, “Why can’t we have fish? We *never* have fish.” They get a budget of $20, and we help with time management and knife work.
    Of course, my daughter insists on trying to order lemonade with her meals, and I point out to her that she can’t even _carry_ $2.00 worth of lemonade. I’m considering making her pay for drinks out of her allowance. 🙂

  9. I am from the other side of the fence on this one. As a single mom working 50+ a week with an almost 5-year-old son, I constantly battle the fries/nuggets routine. It’s clearly not a good balance but when you get home at 6:30 it seems to make sense more often than not. He too was fed what the adults ate until he figured out what he preferred around age 2.5 or 3, and since then it’s been a slippery slope. Chicken nuggets (Tyson or . McD’s), fries, corn dogs, burgers, and anything junk food are his standbys.While my chef boyfriend and I eat organic and gourmet at least daily, he turns up his nose and refuses to eat anything but “nuggets and fries”. I let him skip meals as it makes sense but of course all mothers prefer her child eat something rather than nothing. I have tried all the “kids” organic options from the co-op with little success. I am able to get him to eat vegetarian corn dogs but not nuggets (they look different, augh!) and he does drink sugar-free smoothies and eat grapes and apples (Pink Ladies, only, oddly enough).
    I think kids are naturally picky eaters and make decisions based on what they see on their plates. One day he loves something and the next he won’t touch it. As much as I admire the parents that cook one meal for everyone, I don’t have the time and patience to be a perfect, organic-only parent. I trust he’ll grow out of it like everyone does. In the meantime I’m considering a “one bite” rule but know it will be tough to uphold (try one bite and if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it). I also have a snack drawer just for him where I include everything from raisins and fig newtons to yogos and fruit gummies. The sugar snacks certainly are more popular than the healthier options.

  10. I *hate* the kids’ menus. We don’t want the chicken fingers, the fries, the COKE (for pete’s sake!) or the sundae, thank you very much. We either order off the adult menu for our 2.5 year-old, share our entree with him if it’s large enough to feed more than one (and it usually is), or, if he’s hell-bent on having pasta, ask for a plate of no butter, no oil penne or rigatoni.
    At home it’s sort of every man for himself (I’m a pesco-vegetarian, my husband and toddler are omnivores); we try to sit down together, but the Beaner will have a tofu corndog, baked beans, and watermelon while I have shrimp and broccoli and my husband has baked chicken. No nuggets in sight.

  11. Overall my son eats what we eat – certainly at home, although sometimes I’ll add a bit of extra protein for him at dinner if we are having a light supper because we ate out at lunch. We mostly eat at ethnic type places that do not have a kids menu and we share all the dishes. For the occasional time we go to a place with a kids menu (most of the kids menu’s are uniformly terrible) he can choose from the menu, share with us, or order on his own. We don’t eat almost any fast food so thats not a big problem – he’s never developed the happy meal habit.
    I do like the kids menus where there are more choices, but I think kids and parents have been conditioned to think that kids only like “nuggets, mac & cheese, fries”. We ought to remember that kids around the world eat a huge variety of foods, and so there is no reason to assume that kids won’t like – fish, spinach, spicy foods etc.
    The other factor that conditions kids is the awful food served in the public school system. My son tried it for the first time this year, and after two meals refused to eat the cafeteria food so it was back to packing lunches 🙂

  12. While at home, our son generally eats what we eat, the exception being anything spicy, with tomatoes (he detests tomatoes!) and salad. I agree with some of the other readers that until he reached 3 (he’s almost 4 now) he was more open to eating what ever we had – but around 3 he developed distinct preferences for certain foods.
    When we eat out, we generally order off of the kids menu because it is generally cheaper, and it gives us the freedom to order what ever we want. When he was younger and did not eat much, we shared from our plates.

  13. Our 3.5 year old eats whatever we eat. When we go out, which is rarely (since our town is full of chains), she eats off of the kids menu because it’s a treat. Having that stuff once in awhile while we’re out it’s an easy sell and usually cheaper. If we go to a nicer restaurant, we assume a ‘baby tax’, and she gets some of our food. Just last week we went to the local irish pub, and she shared our shepherds pie and fish and chips and enjoyed everything.
    As for being picky, we have a rule…if Mom says we’re having X for dinner, you’re going to eat X and Mom isn’t going to get out a hot dog for you ’cause dinner is ‘icky’. On the other hand, when I make spicy indian food for dinner, I get out the corn dogs for the kids! She’s allowed not to eat our firey food if she doesn’t want to.
    I just wish they would make better kids menu choices, less fries and fried meats, and smaller portions. My 3 year old doesn’t need all that food! The kids menu at Panera has a whole sandwhich, yogurt, and a drink…for more than $4! My daughter eats the yogurt and the milk/juice then can only finish half the sandwhich. And please, NO CARBONATED BEVERAGES IN KIDS MEALS!!! How ridiculous is that?

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