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May 30, 2007 12:58 AM

NYT: On "Kids Menus"

Interesting article on the pros and (primarily) cons of "kiddie" menus at restaurants: .

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  1. Interesting article. The custom of having distinct "kid" and "adult" cuisines, I think, is cultural, and stems from the Western European habit of segregating children and adults at mealtimes (the whole Mary Poppins thing). I'm Chinese-American, and when I was growing up, we kids were expected to eat whatever everyone else did, and behave like everyone else did, at the table. This meant even very young children got to taste all the food at traditional 10-course wedding banquets—and were expected to sit politely through hours of pre-meal speeches and toasts as well.

    All the kids I grew up with enjoyed the food. (The speeches, not so much.) We were taught that developing a taste for stronger-flavored things (such as bitter melons) was something to aspire to, not that some foods are "yucky" and need to be choked down just so that one could get dessert.

    Children rise to reasonable expectations. The only reason some children won't eat anything but peanut butter sandwiches and chicken fingers is because nobody expects any better of them.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Piglet

      The difference between chinese culture and western is the food sharing. In chinese restaurants, you can just scoop whatever size amounts you want. I hate the whole kids menu because the food is the same no matter where you go and it's the same junky kind of food. At the same time, it's hard to justify buying a large entree for a child who's going to eat a small part of it. It's fine to share w/ them when they're young but at some point, they want more but not enough to get a whole serving. If we can take it home, I don't mind but often we can't. I'd love for more restaurants to have petite entrees. Servings are too big anyway and I hate waste. Surprisingly, the place with the best kids menu is Macaroni Grill which has grilled chicken breast, pasta w/ tomato sauce and steamed broccoli. It might be the best thing they have on their whole menu.

      1. re: chowser

        > stems from the Western European habit of segregating children and adults at mealtimes

        I live in Western Europe (Spain) and I've never seen a kids' menu. From what I've seen, I don't think they are common anywhere (off the beaten tourist path) in continental Europe.

        I think you can tell a lot about the true diet of a nation's children by looking at what they are fed at school. At my son's totally ordinary public school, they eat a three-course meal (I kid you not) that is virtually identical to the food that adults eat at lunch (squid, fish, paella, lentils, white beans, blood sausage, etc.). Kids go out to restaurants with their parents from day one and I think that makes a big difference. Kids here don't tend to be the picky eaters that you find in the US and, if they are picky, it's about different things (only eats squid and not octopus; won't eat lentils, but loves garbanzos, that sort of thing).

      2. re: Piglet

        Generally true, although I don't think my family ever persuaded me to enjoy ginseng soup... they simply told me it was good for me.

        1. re: Piglet

          We would try the kids menu with my son and while he liked some of the food, I would see him eyeing my meal and would end up switching with him. He is now 13 and has been eating Sushi for years (he taught me what to choose), frog legs (when he was 5!), alligator, Middle Eastern food and their is not a vegetable he doesn't like. Come to think of it the only thing he doesn't like is spaghetti sauce, which is odd.

        2. I liked the _Times_ pice, too. I'm another chowish parent who refuses to go along with the whole kid menu/kid segregation concept as a general rule. It is normal for children to have tendencies toward the bland, the sweet, the starchy; but their adults need to nudge them along into experiencing all kinds of foods for reasons that range from nutrition to culture.

          It's easy now, buy my little guy is little. (I think significantly younger than Chowser's child[ren].) He can't read and he's perfectly happy to share whatever my dh & I order. Instead of ordering a whole separate (crap) meal for the little guy, we instead order appetizers and maybe salad and entrees and often dessert. For now, this way works really well - lots of tastes of everything for everyone.

          Of course the little guy has opinions, requests and things he avoids, like hot peppers. We have to make sure we order at least one Sure Thing. But the kid eats. Loves mushrooms, olives and broccoli on pizza; calamari fritti and any form of octopus, Pad Thai, steak (medium rare), asparagus, anything with capers... He is a regular at the local Vietnamese place, the Thai/pan-Asian place, the farmer's market, the French bakery and our favorite Chinatown place... actually, it's hard to think of what all he eats that is remarkable "for children" because of course, to me, it isn't. That sounds smug, but I don't mean it that way. I feel incredibly fortunate that what we model has actually worked. Hell, I didn't know it *would* work and god knows I've got a long way to go before he's off in his own kitchen. What will happen once he's off making food decisions alone in the public school cefeteria - I have no idea.

          I can say the child's never set food in McDo or any other fast food chain. He knows they exist; he knows I think they're crap. He's never seen a chicken nugget and finds processed food (cheese sticks, etc.) at friends' houses to be exotic and fun. He's really involved in food growing, buying, and preparation.

          1. I expect my (18 month old) kid to eat what we eat and she is always offered some, in restaurants and at home. But to my surprise I have found kiddie meals to be pretty darn convenient. Because eating out with a kid is tough enough! Also I figure that getting food that is a "treat" to her will help her enjoy restaurants and therefore be motivated to behave appropriately. After all when we go out it's because we want to eat something different and spend some relaxed time together as a family.
            Most places I like to eat don't have kids' menus anyway, but when travelling or as guests - they're convenient. Or closer to home, when I wanted the spicy mussels, I was grateful there were $5 pancakes on the menu.

            1. I thought I was doing so well as a parent with my first child - he would (and still does) eat anything, at least once. In fact, I take him to Indian restaurants with me (he's only 7) because my husband doesn't like Indian cuisine. Then came my little boy - he is the pickiest eater ever. I don't know how that happened because I offered the same foods to both. But my little boy will only eat meat and potatoes for the most part - nothing "green". And, he has no problem not eating at all if we don't offer him something that he likes. So, I actually like the kid's menus now. My little guy can get something to eat and then my older boy will either eat off of us or order a whole meal off the "adult" menu and we'll share with him.

              8 Replies
              1. re: shardan01

                Wow, finally another parent with a picky eater! Usually the Chowhounds swear that if you offer a wide variety of foods your kids will eat everything, but unfortunately this is not always true. My first child, too, will eat a fairly large range of foods, while my second eats almost nothing but rice, cheese, bread and chicken. If it wasn't for kids menus, she wouldn't find anything at all to eat in a restaurant. Of course, now she's nearly too old for them, so she's going to have to fend for herself in restaurants.

                1. re: Chowpatty

                  Oh yeah, I'm convinced now that some "tastes" have to be genetic, not learned. Otherwise, both my kids should eat everything, right? I'm hoping that my little one will learn to be a little more adventurous as he gets older and sees all of us trying different foods. Good luck with your picky eater as well!

                  1. re: shardan01

                    Well, like I said, my little guy is *little* (4), so I don't have that many miles of parenting & child/food dynamics under my belt. And I freely admit (1) I lucked out, and (2) he certainly does not like every single thing under the on the sun!

                    I think it's developmentally *normal* for children to favor the salty, sweet and starchy (to the detriment of the squishy, spicy, bitter and green). I also think culture is a big factor, too. How many Japanese children "don't like sushi"? I bet not many.

                    So I try really hard to be blase but at the same emphasize how good such-and-such a thing is, and that it will be so nice when he grows into liking it. It's not pressure or (I hope) manipulation; rather, it's an openly stated expectation.

                    Like the spicy thing. We know children have more sensitive tongues than grown-ups do, and spicy heat can really hurt a small child's mouth. If that happens, it can really dampen their enthusiasm for any degree of spiciness (for the evening, or for the year, depending on the kid). So I back off and just confine myself to "Well, that's okay, you'll enjoy it when you're bigger." Oh, and "Here - drink this cold water/eat this sour cream right away to make the hotness go away," or "Eat some nice lox to take away that yucky taste" is also very helpful!

                    1. re: Mawrter

                      I really do believe that some people are born "picky." My son is 13 and STILL picky. However, he is healthy, so I try not to worry too much. He eats lots of whole grains, fruit and some veggies (carrots, snowpeas), but he still doesn't like normal, "mixed" foods much--sauces, stirfries, sandwiches, etc.. (9years of bag lunches and no sandwiches!) Reading Chowhound, it's easy to feel that it is morally wrong to have a picky eater, however I tell myself that his health is most important and if he's missing out on the joys of food..well, it's his loss. I hope he'll change someday, but if he doesn't he's a great person in other ways.

                      As for kids menus, he's doesn't like those either. He really doesn't like eating out at all. Doesn't see the point.

                      1. re: Glencora

                        I spent a summer when I was 9 travelling from Toronto to Florida and back in a car, and eating strictly off the kids menu in truck stops. I ordered the same thing every time - spaghetti and meatballs. I was the pickiest eater most people ever encountered. It all changed when I lived on my own and had to fend for myself. I didn't eat a mushroom until I was 20! Now I am proud to say I have tried many things I wouldn't even be able to look at before. There is hope!

                        On another note, I was recently part of a conversation where a friend was discussing her idea to develop a line of toddler food. Everyone at the table thought it was a fabulous idea. Her idea was based on the fact that there are so many wonderful baby foods out there but no toddler food. I went home and said to my husband "Toddler food? Isn't that just food?"

                        1. re: Beef Pattie

                          I work in the world of franchised food and absolutely shocked the daylights out of one of the corporate higher-ups when I said that my 4-year-old had no idea what a drive-through window was for and couldn't quite get the explanation. This colleague has a child the same age.

                          I try to avoid fast food whenever possible, but it isn't always possible. I do believe strongly, however, in family meal times and we will either sit down and eat together in the fast food place or I will bring it home and we'll eat together at the dinner table. We don't eat meals in the car. Period.

                          So toddler food is what you make it. I agree that toddler food is just plain food but not everyone agrees with us, Beef Pattie. My colleague thinks that eat-in-the-car drive thru is normal for a toddler. I don't. But then again, too many parents are trying to prolong their children's babyhood for their own odd reasons. (I won't even go into the mom who, at my child's 4th birthday party, asked me when I was thinking about taking my daughter out of her crib. I had no idea what to answer since the kid had been sleeping in a full-size bed for over a year at that point.)

                          1. re: rockycat

                            My kid has never been to a drive-through, either, but he would be very intrigued. I offer snacks in the car, but certainly not meals.

                            I didn't realize how much I'd succeed in making The Family Meal an important thing until recently when my son, who was exhausted and had eaten five minutes before, freaked when my husband came home late and he realized we weren't planning to eat dinner together. "Are you hungry?" we asked. "No," he said, "But we're SUPPOSED TO have dinner!" He is also miffed when we don't serve salad. Does he eat the salad? Not usually. But, damnit, we're SUPPOSED TO have have salad. And licking the salad dressing off the whisk is a big deal, too.

                          2. re: Beef Pattie

                            I'm another former picky eater but my brother ate anything. It was a textural thing with me - not the usual aversion to mushy things, it was an aversion to dry things that you had to chew a lot to get mushy. My mother is a pretty good cook (and even better now) so I was offered a variety of things and not really catered to. She did have a rule that if I wasn't going to eat something I had to find and prepare something else to replace it so if I didn't want salad (I hated salad) I had to find another green vegetable (usually celery).

                            Now I'll eat just about anything and my 7 year old son LOVES salad. What kills me lately is that he is starting to cave to peer pressure to be picky. As a toddler he used to eat salmon with his hands, just shovelling it in his mouth now he says "Ewwww, fish?! No way!"

                            So I was really glad to read the article in the NYT. Kid's menus have been a soap box issue of mine for a long time.

                2. I have a friend that was trying to insist that my 12 year old daughter not eat "the adult food" when we visited their home for a party. Unfortunately, that is not how I raised her and I insisted that she eat what the adults were served -- not the chicken nuggets and mac and cheese that she was planning to feed her own kid. Was I being rude? Or was my friend rude? BTW, it was a large buffet and it wasn't as though there were only a limited number of prepared adult entrees.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: RGC1982

                    I don't think either of you were being rude, unless you called eachother names ;) It was a simple misunderstanding. Glad your daughter likes real food!

                    1. re: RGC1982

                      I see something like this on a wedding planning board that I frequent.... brides who are pissed off when parents try to get their kids the adult meal. Simply because it's more expensive and the kid doesn't "need" the roast beef or whatever it is. I do NOT get it! In this case, even weirder because of the buffet.

                      1. re: julesrules

                        Oddly enough, at the last two events I went to, the adults were all raiding the "kids' food" buffet. In one case, both the adult and kid food were well prepared but the kids' side was so much more visually appealing. In the second case, the adult food was awful. Chicken was being sent out semi-raw and in other ways poorly prepared. We were eating the kids' chicken nuggets just to have something to eat.

                        1. re: julesrules

                          In a case like getting an adult meal at a wedding, if little cousin Johnny requested the roast beef, then little cousin Joey's mother is going to complain that her son didn't get the same treatment and how come she didn't know he could get the fancy meal? Then, you wind up with all sorts of complaining relatives. Sometimes, it's easier to make a bright-line rule or blame the caterers.

                        2. re: RGC1982

                          It was rude of your friend not to ask your 12 year old daughter what she would prefer. But it's also strange for adults to treat a 12 year old like a small child who doesn't make her own choices. I wouldn't have said anything (or would have said "Let him decide"), because I know that my son will speak up for himself in these situations.

                          1. re: butterfly

                            i agree to some extent. But it would really depend on the kid, their level of shyness and what said kid thinks is polite and appropriate for the situation.

                            I was actually 18 the one and only time I encountered this attitude. Basically it was the last meal of a group vacation and in order to divvy up the leftovers, it was decreed that the "kids" would eat one thing and the adults another... we (the teenaged "kids") were secretly annoyed but we were definitely guests in the scenario, had not prepared any of the food, and weren't about to argue it with the hosts (who I think just assumed we would be as happy as their own daughter with the casserole presented, as it was her childhood favourite, but kiddie food to us). I'm less annoyed in retrospect because I think the hosts were very generous to invite a bunch of kids in the first place, and I think they were just trying to organize the meal.

                          2. re: RGC1982

                            I think "trying to insist" that a 12-year-old (or that anyone!) eat anything is rude.

                            The only thing about serving "kid food" that isn't tacky is the socially accepted notion that it's for the comfort of the kid(s). If there's evidence to the contrary (child doesn't like/doesn't want mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets) and the host is still pushing kid food on anyone smaller than she is, well, it's a lot of things and none of them are gracious.

                            1. re: Mawrter

                              Just a small story about a young future 'hound the other night (girl, maybe 7 or 8? Not sure...). It was a party of six and they ordered a pizzetta appetizer and carpaccio. They requested extra capers because the youngest daughter LOVED them, and when the carpaccio arrived the girl practically devoured it!! I was amazed (although I'm sure this thing happens in Italy all the time). Then for her entree she ordered the crab salad which came with fresh crab meat and a soft shell crab on top (also a mix of grapefruit slices, avocado, and a passionfruit vin). I joked with my coworker that I wanted to be adopted into her family. My parents always encouraged me to try everything once, but I didn't try a soft shell crab until a couple years ago (I know, I am so behind!!). I thought that it was great that the parents let her be who she was.