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Mar 12, 2010 09:32 PM

Kids' menus at restaurants. Really? [From General Topics]

After a few days at Disneyland I started looking at the Kids' Menus. I was shocked. Mostly because they just seemed so unhealthy and bland. Chicken fingers, mac n' cheese, fries and the like. With maybe a few apple slices on the side. Most of the stuff my mother would not have let me eat, except for the apple slices (Ok and occasionally mac n' cheese). I never ate off the children's menu as child, except maybe to get a smaller portion than the adult food.

I've been noticing them in other restaurants as well, and for the most part it seems more of the same.

Is this what kids eat these days? Or is this just for the picky eaters? Is it really the norm for kids to eat crappy food?

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  1. "Is this what kids eat these days? Or is this just for the picky eaters? Is it really the norm for kids to eat crappy food?"
    sometimes. yes and no. depends on the family.

    but seriously, you have to keep in mind that those menus are typically intended to provide options for kids in restaurants that cater to adults. it's an afterthought, not the main event. restaurants default to grilled cheese, chicken fingers, pizza and mac & cheese because 1) they're simple to prepare so the kitchen doesn't have to expend too much extra effort to churn them out; and 2) yes, most kids like them. so it's an easy way to appease the picky eaters and prevent a temper tantrum in the middle of a restaurant.

    it makes me cringe when we're out to eat with my nieces at a nice restaurant, and they ask if they can have pizza or chicken fingers and fries. i usually try to suggest one or two things from the regular menu that i think they might like, to encourage them to try something new. i actually wish restaurants didn't offer those kids' options - most places have at least one or two simple dishes on the menu that kids would probably be willing to eat if they were presented the right way. they eat enough crap in school cafeterias and at fast food places, they don't need more of the same at nicer restaurants...but i don't see them disappearing any time soon.

    3 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      addendum to my original reply - i neglected to address the fact that in this particular case you're talking about DISNEYLAND (thanks to queencru for reminding me). that place is all about the kids, and when you're traipsing around for hours, and exhausted parents are in Mickey Mouse overload, the last thing they need is to fight with their children about meals and snacks. while i do wish kids weren't conditioned to want that stuff in the first place, they are, so i understand why those options are in place in and around venues like Disney.

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Disney certainly exemplifies what I'm talking about, but I see it other restaurants as well. It kind of reminds me, vaguely, of foods the Victorians thought were appropriate for children, as the belief was that their digestives systems were undeveloped. Thin gruel and porridges.

        I can understand the cheapness of the meals being attractive to parents, but I know that my mother managed to feed us no crap while we were there, aside from the ice cream treat or what have you. But she was pretty clever about food with us. Sorta like mom22tots.

        I think that mrst and goodhealthgourmet hit what bugs me most about this, that this kind of food has become "*only* thing worth eating."

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          I was surprised at the options at Disneyworld for kids, enough that I'd order off the kids menu and let my kids order off the adult. The portions were perfect and I could get a grilled chicken tortilla, grapes/carrots, and a drink. LOL, I didn't even notice that there were nuggets on the menu but I'm sure there were. But, FWIW, adult choices weren't much better than kids choices, only with a lot larger portions.

          At the same time, because my kids didn't eat stuff like that at home, it was a special treat for them to order chicken nuggets and fries off a menu once in a while. One thing i don't do is deep fry food--never got the hang of it and never had enough oil in the house. So, if they wanted it, it was on a rare occasion when eating out. They've outgrown it somewhat now but I do miss the days when they could eat for $4.99 including drink and dessert. Now it costs me three times as much.

      2. I have no problem with kid's menus, especially at places like Disney. I was recently there myself and the prices on the adult menu are very expensive at sit-down restaurants. Additionally there's no way to get carry out when you're going to be marching around a park all day and aren't at a hotel that has a fridge/microwave. The kid's menu items are easy to prepare and items that most children like. While I'd say it's fine for other restaurants not to offer those kid's options, at Disney it's very exhausting and the last thing you want to be doing is spending hours arguing with a kid about whether he's going to eat the $20 plate of food you just bought him.

        1. Let's not forget the huge mark-up on kids menus. These items are so inexpensive to prepare and not necessarily priced accordingly, particularly at a place like Disney. I much prefer when a restaurant offers half-portions or child-sized servings of their regular menu offereings. When they don't, I often resort to ordering off the appertizer menu for my kids, b/c there are usually much more interesting choices for them. Or else they share an adult entree (this assuming I can get them to agree on one thing...big assumption!!)

          1 Reply
          1. re: mom22tots

            Nothing at Disney is priced accordingly, but something reasonably priced is still better than a $20 plate that a child is probably not going to be able to eat.

          2. "The Cosby Show" had an episode where Cliff tries to take Rudy and her friends to an upscale restaurant and they all want burgers.

            Now with a whole "foodie" culture, we have kids that want to be food critics--in Junior High School, and will only eat tuna if it's prepared by Nobu.

            I think it's great to expose kids to different cuisines and flavor combinations, but sometimes you have to let kids be kids. A chicken finger won't kill them once in a while. Remember when going to McDonald's was a treat and not an everyday thing?

            18 Replies
            1. re: MrsT

              "Remember when going to McDonald's was a treat and not an everyday thing?"
              i think that's precisely the problem. many kids today seem to think it IS an everyday thing, or the *only* thing worth eating. but who's really to blame for that is an entirely different discussion...

              1. re: MrsT

                " Remember when going to McDonald's was a treat and not an everyday thing?"

                nope. going there was never either in my childhood

                "... but sometimes you have to let kids be kids"

                you always have to let kids be kids, but that isnt the same as assuming they only like bland fried crap.

                1. re: thew

                  ""... but sometimes you have to let kids be kids"

                  you always have to let kids be kids, but that isnt the same as assuming they only like bland fried crap.

                  Or, that they were born liking bland fried crap, or McDonald's.

                  If kids are reared to like wholesome foods, then you can let kids be kids and they will still want "real" food.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I think you just summed it all up.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Absolutely true. The restaurant I manage has a kids menu, but thankfully, no fried foods. We offer the usual assortment - grilled cheese, pasta with butter and cheese, chicken strips with dipping sauce... We also offer steamed veggies with dipping sauce, kid sized salads, sliced apples. In my 7 years with this establishment, I have served maybe 2 kids salads or steamed veggies. The highlights are always pasta and chicken. What is most disheartening is that we have actually had kids reject the chicken because it's not breaded - it is grilled. This happens more than you would think. We have one family that comes in fairly regularly who have clearly always fed their kids good food. They never order from the kids menu. Instead, the two girls share a small meal - usually salmon of some sort with potato and vegetable. We love that family. My point is that kids menus are the way they are because that's what families seem to want. Even if you offer the healthy choices, they don't pick them.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I haven't found that to be true. My kids had home made whole foods at home but the first time they had Kraft mac and cheese at someone's house, they loved it. Same with a whole host of junk foods, including fast food, Capri suns, Hostess hohos, slice and bake cookies, Cheetos, etc. We haven't had fast food in going on four years now (no, not entirely true, we have had Five Guys on a rare occasion) but they love it. Given the choice, my kids will pick french fries over broccoli. Hey, so would I! So, my concession is real food at home; at restaurants, I don't stress about it because it's only in moderation.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Like what you said and how you said it! My kids were just the same--

                      2. re: thew

                        IIRC, there are biological reasons why many kids prefer the bland and fried- a growing body is frequently wired to want to get as many calories into it as possible which works out to a craving for fat, and I seem to remember a recent study talking about how childrens' taste buds are far more sensitive than adult taste buds when it comes to picking up on sour/bitter/hot.

                        So in my book, a 'good' children's menu realizes that yes, children may indeed have these kinds of food preferences but not immediately default to the same old kidz meal standards in order to hit those preferences.

                        1. re: beachmouse

                          I studied biology and biochemistry when in college, and I never heard that theory. Where did you read this?

                          How then can you explain that many parents prefer fried foods and not the healthiest choices? Not all, but let's look at the reality of the obesity problem in this country. It is true in many cases.

                          1. re: beachmouse

                            interesting, because for many children it works out to a craving for fruit

                            1. re: fara

                              My son's 10 and he's recently started eating a ton of fruit. He always liked most fruit but now he's eating so much more. I love it!

                              1. re: fara

                                "for many children it works out to a craving for fruit"
                                Possibly every kid I've known loves fruit. I am always so happy when places offer fruit on kids' menus. Just because I don't want to have a steamed spinach tantrum in public doesn't mean I want to feed my kid crap.

                                1. re: rusty_s

                                  I used to add spinach- quite a bit- to my son's mac & cheese and he liked it a lot. and no, I didn't feed him chicken fingers, ever. We took him to sushi for the first time when he was four. i hate those "kids' menus".

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    My homemade southern fried chicken fingers are much better than anything you can find on any kids' menu.

                          2. re: MrsT

                            When I was young, it was a big deal to get to have a McDonalds birthday party! I'm 45.

                          3. Some kids eat crappy food, some don't. Same with adults. Disney is a place that caters to families, and I agree, it cuts down on arguing with small, tired, hungry kids. (Never been to Disney, but do have kids - they get ugly when tired & hungry!).

                            I wish for wider variety on kids' menus, but my kids can order "regular" food if they prefer. Otherwise, an occasional meal of chicken nuggets is fine. My kids are all healthy weights and very physically active. They have a variety of tastes: one likes veggies but no meat, one likes all meat but not big on veggies, and one is still determining what he likes. He did, however, crack his doc up by saying (at age 5) that his favorite foods were cucumbers and cous cous. McD's is an occasional stop on a busy night, or for lunch on their birthdays, although now that they are older, they are asking for better places. I am a big believer in all things are ok in moderation, and banning foods makes them more tempting.

                            Bottom line - take the kids to places with food you like and they like. A kid's menu is a suggestion, not requirement. But expect that most kids' menus are catering to the lowest common denominator, food-wise.