The travesty of “The Kids Menu”

29 11 2007

I think kid’s menus are stupid (man, I’m gonna hear it about this post). Kid’s menus represent the dumbing down of food for people (little as they may be) who, it is assumed, cannot discern the difference between frozen and fresh foods. In most cases the menu is not even the same food found on the ‘adult’ menu, but rather a selection of boxed and frozen pizza, fish sticks, chicken strips, and macaroni and cheese. The problem I have found at restaurants is that if I want a child’s portion of food (they are smaller, you know?), you have to order from the kid’s menu, thus having to subject your kid to this inferior food. Why can’t restaurants offer a child’s portion of the regular menu’s offerings?

Part of the problem stems from the parents themselves (wow, I’m really gonna get it now). Let me offer an anecdote. The other night my wife and I visited a landmark restaurant here in San Antonio, known for their New American, somewhat eclectic menu. A couple with two kids (both about nine years old) sat next to us and I overheard both kids demanding pizza from their parents (Under normal circumstances I’d say “right on!” Pizza, as a matter of fact, is my favorite food – it comprises all of the food groups, so its very healthy for you). After looking over the menu for a few minutes and eating the complimentary bread, the couple told the waiter they would be leaving to go elsewhere since the children did not feel comfortable there.

Its unfortunate that the waiter did not try to rescue this table. However, that is a different issue. Now, understand that this restaurant has no kids menu, and therefore, no pizza for these ingrates (did I just say that?). What throws me is that the parents succumbed to their children, and left this great establishment to appease these kids. I’m probably right in guessing that this is not the first time this has happened. This family probably cooks separate meals at home, too. One for mom and dad, and some mac & cheese for the rugrats.

How will our children ever begin to appreciate diversity in food if we continue to be led by a ring in our noses by our children? Our family’s philosophy is simple when it comes to eating: eat what I serve you or don’t eat at all. We have exposed our children to a variety of foods and we don’t allow them to not try something just because it looks weird. This philosophy has created three awesome children who love to eat, and know when they are being served crap from kid’s menus. It has been more than once that our kids have complained about the lack of flavor (or outright nasty flavor) from the kid’s menus. My oldest child, now nine, refuses to order from the kid’s menu. Yes, it costs a little more when we eat out, but this youngster can discern the quality of food (on a side note, he can eat as much as I do, so no sense in limiting his intake either).

My children enjoy Indian food and Thai (as long as its not too spicy), and they love going to eat Vietnamese. Two of my kids love mushrooms (especially grilled Portobello), and they can all make a meal out of broccoli. They might not like everything that is served to them, but they will all try things at least once. They have been trained to never complain about food when we are guests at other people’s homes, and they almost always finish everything on their plates there. If I were to offer them a snail or octopus, all of them would at least try it (at least one of them would probably love it). I’m going to come home one day with chapulines (dried grasshoppers) and make tacos. I can bet you everyone will like them (I’ll comment on this post when I do).

Kids have to be trained to eat healthy and enjoy food. They have to be disciplined to appreciate what is served to them, no matter what. It is our job to excite them to try new culinary experiences and to look forward to them. Parents: this starts with you at home (c’mon, bring on the comments).

Restaurants should eliminate these crummy kid’s menus and encourage youngsters to try something new. Can it be that difficult to cut a chicken breast in half, season it, grill it, and serve it with a side of seasoned rice? Can you bring my kid a small portion of the seafood pasta sans squid, for example?

You know, if that couple at the restaurant would have just asked the kitchen to make some kind of pizza, I’m sure they would have obliged. The restaurant makes their own bread and has at least two handfuls of specialty cheeses on hand. At least it would have tasted more interesting than Totino’s.

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12 responses

29 11 2007
Jorge Goyco

Right on. Although my oldest can down a regular sized hamburger, we usually get a couple of quesadillas from the regular menu and split it.

We are not so polished on making out kids eat what we give them, and I’d love to hear if everyone eats the chapulines. (eats, not necessarily likes)

jorge

1 12 2007
Grace

Hell YEA!
Over here we have Fridays which offered a smaller portion size at one point in time on their regular menu items, why can’t they do the same for the kids. I have no problem letting my daughter get a “real” meal when we go out. She likes pretty much everything.

Its awesome to hear someone else say- eat what I make or don’t eat. I get strange looks for saying this. Not like I give a rats behind. My child is not the picky eater.

1 12 2007
ieat

Just to clarify, we don’t make our kids eat what they don’t like, but we do urge them strongly to try new things. Most of the time they like it. Sometimes they say “It’s okay, but I’m not big on it.” It is rare that they actually do not like something. BTW, my kids are 5, 7, and 9. Its amazing how acute their observations are about food flavor.

2 12 2007
Dustin

This article made me laugh. It’s dead on.

Quite honestly, I think that this attitude that food establishment’s have is a small reflection of how the rest of our society views children. There is a general “kids don’t know the difference” mentality. Kids are unbelievable. The ability that they have to discern, soak up, retain, and recall is far beyond what they give them credit for.

Good article.

Dustin…

2 12 2007
eileen jimenez

I had an Italian restaurant for 17 years in San Juan, and part of my success was the way we treated kids. We had no kids’ menu, bur we served 1/2 portions for them. The kids were served first, and the they could help themselves to a wood wine case full of toys, decks of cards, or coloring books and crayolas after they ate.
That way, parents and friends could eat at peace, and everybody was happy.
We had a BIG crowd of regulars every week!!!
EJimenez, San Juan, P.R.

3 12 2007
ieat

Eileen – great to hear from a restauranteur and your success with the kids. Interesting take on feeding the kids first and I’m wondering if anyone else has experience with this pattern? What are some of the weirdest things you’ve seen kids enjoy eating? You may not be from SA, but have you seen my post on Beto’s? As a fellow Boricua I’d like to see your continued feedback here. Thanks!

3 12 2007
JIMMY K

I own a small chain of fast food restaurants and I actually expanded my kids menu to 10 items. I cover almost all sections. It’s working like a charm.

3 12 2007
ieat

Jimmy – thanks for the feedback. Could you be a little more specific about the type of food business you are in? Please excuse my facetious question here, but do the kid’s selections make sense with the rest of the menu or have you added a line of inferior food items completely unrelated to the “adult food?”

8 12 2007
Fish Tacos at La Bodega « Bryan & College Station, Texas

[…] By the way, I did feel like my kids were a little out of place there, not sure why, but there it is. (actually, I don’t think they even have a kids menu) […]

19 12 2007
Anchovies - kids just love them! « The Dish on Food

[…] we fought, toothpick-a-toothpick for the last ones. This is a great example to show that when we don’t patronize our children and assume what they will or will not like, they will actually surprise […]

9 03 2008
Andrea

/children have extremely sensitive palates…if a child were to know the name of all ingredients including spices….they would be able to identify each ingredient in any given dish. That sensitive sense of taste is probably why they don’t like spicey foods and foods that are heavily seasoned. I think as children grow into adults they abusedtheir taste buds over and over with things like MSG, cigarettes, coffee….etc….Adults may have a mature and seasoned sense of taste yet, most of the time they can’t identify what it was exactly in the dish that they liked so much…outside of the stronger flavors that stand out.

21 02 2009
whizkidforte

I think the triteness of the kids’ menu is weaning off gradually – more and more restaurants are expanding options for items on their banal types of menus.

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