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What should be on a kids menu?

Went to dinner last night at a typical "family style" restaurant. The family at the next table had a child - 4 or 5 years old, I guess - who wouldn't eat anything. The kids menu offered a cheeseburger, chicken fingers, cheese pizza, and spaghetti. He wouldn't have any of those. The parents tried to interest him in appetizers - chicken wings, potato skins, mozzarella fingers, etc. - but it was nothing doing, and the kid's complaints got louder and louder, until the parents finally apologized to the waiter and left.

I don't want this to degenerate into a discussion of parenting skills, so I hope everyone please leaves that issue alone. But the incident did leave me wondering: what else could the restaurant have offered on a kids menu? The only things I could think of were hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and I think plenty of places would reject those for 1) possible choking, or 2) allergies. Any thoughts?

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  1. This goes under the "you can't please everyone" category. If your child, or anyone in the party, is that picky, then the menu needs to be consulted before sitting down.

    1. All of the appetizers and items on the kids menu seem perfectly fine to me...

      I don't think it's a case of what's on the menu, but rather what's not on the menu. The parents could have asked for whatever it was that the kid wanted.. granted it's not something complicated. A plain baked potato or plain spaghetti...

      1 Reply
      1. re: cheesecake17

        this is what I do. I have a 5 yr old boy and I ask him what he wants for dinner, many times he does not order off the kids menu but from the appetizers.

        As for suggestions on the kids menu...how about a small salad with chicken or other protein. My son often gets a small salad and bread and butter when we go out. Or if we are at an Italian place he wants just a meatball or just sausage.

      2. It wasn't the menu or the parents. It was the tot who just didn't want to eat. Whether the wait to be seated was too long, or he/she was already tired before they got there...maybe he was coming down with something? Who knows. There are a myriad of reasons an otherwise reasonable child refuses to eat no change to the menu is going to fix that.

        In terms of hot dogs - they're on a lot of kids menus out there. It's common for them to be split down the middle so they're rendered less of a hazard. I've never seen pb&j, but I have seen, and ordered grilled cheese - something my 5yo adores - and had her turn up her nose at it on an off day. If she can be amused with crayons etc we stay, if not, check please.

        1 Reply
        1. re: maplesugar

          I agree that this sounds like a kid determined not to be pleased by anything. Probably tired and sulky. Of all the picky kids I've ever known, all of them would have eaten at least one of those things. That's why all that stuff is on kids menus to begin with--universal appeal, to American kids, at least!

          It's possible, as some other posters suggest, that a veggie dip or some offbeat thing might have worked, but you'd think the parents would have known about that going in.

        2. Lots of restaurants that do the chicken fingers/hamburger/hot dog thing have dropped the ball. Progressive restaurants are now offering simple crudite (carrot, celery, maybe broccoli) with dipping sauce/dressing. This goes over well because this is what progressive parents give their kids to eat at home!

          Even McDonald's is hip enough to offer apple slices and dipping sauce with one or more of it's "Happy Meal" products, these days.

          1. Did the parents actually ask the child what he wanted to eat? Or did they just say, "oh, look, here's mozzarella sticks, you like mozzarella sticks, why don't you have those?"

            Personally I don't believe in a separate kid's menu. Kid-sized portions of whatever's offered, yes, but I don't like going to, say, a Mexican restaurant and seeing mac and cheese and chicken nuggets on the kid's menu. If chicken nuggets and mac and cheese are offered on the regular menu, that's fine. Just don't have them as separate items that have to be specially made.

            12 Replies
            1. re: MandalayVA

              I’m with you on this one Mandalay, and I can’t remember menus having “Kids Section” when I was a child. In fact, I think my parents ordered for me and they ate what I couldn’t.

              In this case, it seems the kid was just cranky and didn’t even know what HE wanted.

              1. re: MandalayVA

                Ditto for the "no kids menu" but allow 1/2 portions for the wee ones.

                cuccubear doesn't remember kids' menus? Heck, I'm 50 and growing up in nearly every restaurant we visited were the ubiquitous, horribly, colorful "kids' sections" of the menu, typically featuring a hamburger called a "clown" ('cause they made a face on it with condiments) and the like. Horrible.

                Indeed, kids should be offered what the restaurant offers to everyone else. How else are they gonna learn how to eat?

                1. re: shaogo

                  I'm in my 50s and remember "children's menu" from my youth that were not just junk/fast food. In particular recall 2 restaurants that we used to visit for nice family dinners where the children's menu featured things like a turkey dinner or fried chicken - not haute cuisine but the sort of thing that an old-fashioned grandmother might fix for Sunday dinner. There always were vegetables included (and an ice cream sundae for dessert).

                  1. re: masha

                    I had to laugh out loud! You and your family obviously patronized white-tablecloth restaurants. We were poor, so places like Howard Johnson's, Schrafft's and the like were the places we went.

                    We did, however, go all-out once or twice a year. The venerable Dog Team Inn, north of Middlebury, Vermont (now long gone) had the kind of childrens' menu items you described and they were just wonderful. I was about eight and remember roast turkey with all the fixin's, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and even a pork roast option on their childrens' menu. What a wonderful way to go!

                    1. re: shaogo

                      I know the Dog Team and much lamented when it burned down. You are right that was the type of menu available. (As to "white table" restaurants, the two to which I was referring were not all that fancy but they were in relatively rural locations -- though not as rural as the Dog Team Went to my share of HoJos growing up too.)

                      1. re: shaogo

                        I adored the Dog Team Tavern! My family even recreates most of the relish wheel at Thanksgiving. The kids' menu was similar to the adult menu when I used to go. So sad it's burned down.

                        1. re: shaogo

                          The Dog Team Tavern! The relish wheel alone would be fun for most kids!

                          1. re: Cachetes

                            As a kid I only ate the horseradish cottage cheese. Before they closed I was up to the beans and the corn relish. Still never developed taste for pickled beets, sauerkraut or apple butter. My mother and her siblings swear that years ago (probably in the 60s-80s) they had carrot and celery sticks on the wheel too! We serve the beans (we have the recipe), cottage cheese (you can buy the powder at some of the stores in middlebury), and corn relish (supermarket) at Thanksgiving with our pumpkin bread, nut bread, pickles, olives etc.

                            1. re: melpy

                              What I want is the recipe for their sticky buns!!!

                              1. re: masha

                                There is a cookbook with it. I have to look up the name.

                                Nevermind. The new catering company has it printed online for free:

                                Dog Team Sticky Buns

                                ¾ POUND POTATOES, PEELED AND CUBED
                                ¼ POUND (1 STICK) MARGARINE, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
                                2 ¾ CUPS SUGAR
                                1 ½ TEASPOONS SALT
                                1 PACKAGE ACTIVE DRY YEAST
                                2 EGGS, WELL BEATEN
                                7 CUPS ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
                                1 ½ CUPS PACKED LIGHT BROWN SUGAR
                                1 ½ CUPS CHOPPED WALNUTS
                                ½ POUND (2 STICKS) LIGHTLY SALTED BUTTER, MELTED
                                ¼ CUP GROUND CINNAMON

                                Boil potatoes in salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes, reserving 1 ½ cups of the cooking liquid, and mash. Measure 1 Cup of the mashed potatoes and reserve the rest for another use.

                                Stir together the mashed potatoes, margarine, ½ cup of the sugar and salt. Cool to lukewarm and add yeast, eggs and the reserved 1 ½ cups cooking liquid. Mix well. Add flour and stir. Knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic. Set in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

                                Butter three 9-inch round or square baking dishes. Distribute brown sugar evenly among the pans. Sprinkle with enough water to make the sugar very wet. Distribute walnuts evenly over the brown sugar.

                                Roll out the dough into a ½-inch-thick rectangle on a well-floured surface. Brush with melted butter. Stir together the remaining 2 ¼ cups sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over the buttered dough. Roll up the dough as you would a jelly roll. Cut into ½-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices cut-side up in the prepared pans so that they are almost touching. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

                                Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

                                Bake the sticky buns until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
                                Immediately invert the buns onto a plate.

                                MAKES 6 TO 8 STICKY BUNS PER PAN

                      2. re: shaogo

                        shaogo, I really don't remember them per se, but I seem to remember now spaghetti or fried chicken "For smaller appetites". But mostly I remember sharing with my parents, or them finishing what I couldn't from a regular menu selection.