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Down With the Standard Kids Menu!

We all probably know the menu by heart: Chicken nuggets, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, hamburger and the occasional grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, I am referring to the generic kids' meal menu at most restaurants.

Finally, some folks who can change all that have taken notice. Until June 21, some restaurants in Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago are taking part in Kids Restaurant Week. Kids 11 and under pay their age and some creative chefs are offering them a whole new set of choices.

Reports my fellow washingtonpost.com GOG bloggers:

"What can you expect on the menu for pint-sized foodies? At Mie N Yu, the youth choices include tandoori chicken skewers and an organic beef burger; at Firefly, you'll find macaroni and cheese and a decorate-it-yourself cookie. At Art & Soul, there's Mac-N-Chini (a version of the fried risotto balls the restaurant usually serves), a peanut-butter-and-jelly hoecake and "baby cakes." Juniper's menu is sophisticated: there's a salad of arugula, cantaloupe, prosciutto, goat cheese and mint (which should definitely be the starting point for a talk with your kids about unusual flavors) and a lime cheesecake lollipop."

In some of the New York restaurants, you'll find shrimp cocktail, chicken-apple lollipops, salmon sliders, tropical fruit soup, ravioli with all sorts of fillings and much more.

The truth is that any one of us could go to a restaurant and order an adult meal for the kids. My sister used to do this often, as one adult meal of salmon, rice and vegetables easily fed both her children. Appetizers, too, work well as meals for some kids. Plenty of friends are able to enjoy their Thai food with kids who love "chicken on a stick" and some rice. My nieces and nephews love sushi and eat it along with their parents -- no special menu needed.

As for my kids: Well, I can always dream ...

What do your kids normally eat at restaurants? Do you avoid the kids' menu or do your kids insist?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 16, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Food
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Comments


"At Art & Soul, there's Mac-N-Chini (a version of the fried risotto balls the restaurant usually serves), a peanut-butter-and-jelly hoecake and "baby cakes."

Sounds yummy, but at Art & Soul's menu items of $31 - $50, my kids will have to rough it elsewhere.

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 16, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

While Juniper's menu sounds great, the other menus sound like expensive versions of the classic standards. My son loves these. My daughters, however, would MUCH rather choose from the adult menu and do. We just take home the extra and have it the next day. We don't eat out enough to make this a problem.

But why don't kids' menus have salads? Fruit salads, green salads, etc? And why rarely a veggie? At least it could be offered.

I am all for restaurants serving a smaller size of their adult menu for kids. But quite frankly, Art & Soul's peanut-butter-and-jelly hoecake sounds an awful lot like my own PB&J (at least made with organic PB) and never an option for my kids when we go out.

Posted by: Stormy1 | June 16, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

We almost never eat out. The last time was for my SS birthday where he could pick the restaurant. Of course, he picked a restaurant that he loves - McDonalds. Not my personal choice but it was his birthday.

Given my husband's extreme pickiness in terms of the food he eats we are very limited in restaurant choices. I can choose Chinese, S. American or fast food like Five Guys/Chipotle. Kids like Fried Rice and S. American food of all kinds so we don't have to worry about resorting to children's menu. I am not even sure the restaurants we frequent have children's menus. At most, the problem is mine because I like a much greater variety of food. Like Indian, Mediterranean, Korean, Thai... you get the idea.

Posted by: Billie_R | June 16, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

we eat out 4-5x each week - sometimes kids pick off our plate, sometimes they get chicken fingers, sometimes they eat exotic food, sometimes they eat tomatoes and strawberries.

we really don't worry about it. overall they eat plenty of fruits and veggies. if lunch today consisted mostly of ketchup, then so be it.

(i do think the parents who proclaim that Jack loves sushi are just as tiresome as those who brag about his reading or walking or pooping or whatever)

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 16, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Well we just spent a week at Walt Disney World and bought their dining plan. The kids menu looked exactly like that.

Our daughter only wants to eat kids menu type food unless it is Asian. So when we go to an Asian place, we order several adult entrees and share amongst the four of us.

Baby boy loves all kinds of food. So if go to a normal place we order two adult entrees and one child's menu. Baby boy eats off everyone's plate and daughter is happy with kid fare.

When they get older, we will probably just order adult portions and doggie bag the rest.

Posted by: foamgnome | June 16, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

My 5 year olds usually eat what my husband and I eat at home. In other words I don't make them chicken nuggets while we eat grilled chicken breasts. So when we go out to dinner, getting chicken tenders is kind of a treat for them. But lately, they have been ordering lots of other things in restaurants: hamburgers, hot dogs, fried shrimp, and even Alaskan snow crabs (Joe's Crab Shack has a great deal for kids: $8.99 for snowcrabs, fries, and corn on the cob!)

When we go out for Mexican food, the girls will eat a quesadilla and beans and rice- not chicken tenders and french fries. Same thing with Chinese or Japanese- the girls order off the regular menu and there is not a french fry to be seen!

Posted by: LBH219 | June 16, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I have actually never seen a kids menu that didn't offer fruit and veggies as a side item choice, or wouldn't let you substitue it for the fries offered.

My kids eat a wide variety of things at home so when eating out I really don't care much what they choose. It is a rare treat and if what they really want is chicken fingers, why argue? It isn't like they are eating it everyday.

I do try to encourage them to expand their list of favored foods, but find home is an easier place to do it. They will also eat anything they make in preschool. I am not sure what it is, but cooking it with your teacher automatically makes it taste better.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | June 16, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

I never considered the standard kid's menu a big problem. We've split adult meals and had appetizers as meals with the kids, it is not a big deal. We have one kid that will eat anything and one that eats almost nothing and we got tired of basing our meals out on the kid that eats nothing. Since we only eat out 1-2 times a week the kid that eats almost nothing suffers very little. I eat the leftovers for lunch the next day as well.

We all love pizza though, so we usually order pizza a couple times a month. My husband is a pizza snob, so sometimes when he is at work the kids and I order pizza we like that he won't eat.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 16, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Best children's menu deal Legal Sea Food - they have a one pound lobster for $10 less than on the regular menu- My daughter was 12 (the maximum age for their children's menu and they do enforce this for obvious reasons) and she was going to order off the regular menu. We made a deal she ordered lobster for me and I ordered what she wanted and then we traded.

Posted by: mom_of_1 | June 16, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Depends on where we go. My husband loves to take our son to Red Robin on nights I work late, and he always goes for the corn dog and cantaloupe.
The Vietnamese place we go doesn't have kid meals, but when our 2 1/2 year old is really hungry, there's not much lemon grass chicken left on his plate.

Posted by: library2 | June 16, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I just spent the weekend with relatives who have a 5.5 year old girl, who barely eats. Her intake each day on Friday and Saturday: 1/4 of a donut, 6 apple slices, popcorn, Goldfish crackers, 1/2 cup plain white rice and 1/2 a cupcake, along with about 32 ounces of milk. Her parents don't even attempt to get her to try or taste anything else.

Posted by: ally75 | June 16, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I think it would be nice if more places offered "half-portions," not just for kids but also for seniors and those who just have smaller appetites (or aren't interested in leftovers).

We rarely eat out (read: almost never), but when we do we usually go to ethnic places that have the kind of stuff I don't know how to make at home and they rarely have kids menus. My kids are HUGE fans of Indian food (my husband says this is because they were mainlining it when I was pregnant), and they also like middle eastern stuff. I like places where we can order a large variety of appetizers and share them, rather than a few big entrees.

Posted by: floof | June 16, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

My daughter is not yet a year old so we have not run in to this situation yet, but my husband and I have talked a lot about it and we are decidedly against the children's menu. We hope our daughter develops a varied palate with interest in all sorts of flavors. As it is now she eats whatever we eat when we are in a restaurant. I hope we can keep that up as she gets older, but I know preschoolers have a way of becoming picky overnight for no reason!

Posted by: colomom | June 16, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

ally75 you don't sound like a parent. Parents know-- "not even attempting " to get a child to eat a certain way is really your best option. Wise parents make all sorts of healthy food available to their kids and educate them about nutrition, but they DO NOT get involved in a power struggle (i.e. bribery) to get them to eat a certain way. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

Posted by: captiolhillmom | June 16, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

My girl will eat almost anything; she's the one who wants the $32 crab cake, and who gets upset when I don't let her. :-) My boy is all beige, dairy, and cured pork products. For both, we usually stick with the kids' menu, because they're @ half the price; for my girl, I would appreciate a broader variety (irrelevant for the boy, who will pretty much just eat the french fries regardless).

I most enjoy the restaurants where we can split adult "regular" food. For ex., when we go Chinese, they love dumplings, lo mein, and Mongolian beef. Indian they don't like much, but the girl will eat chicken tikka, which is one of my favorites, too.

Posted by: laura33 | June 16, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

My kids like the regular food at Asian places. We also used to go a lot to Outback, where they would get a hamburger or chicken fingers, with steamed vegetables or just steamed green beans. They didn't know for the longest time that you can get french fries there (it's listed on the menu as "chips," Aussie style, I guess).

As opposed to the poster who goes out to restaurants to eat food she doesn't/can't make at home, we go out to eat when I need a break from cooking or we're getting home later than I had planned and there are no quick meals in the house. So my standards are lower. To save money, sometimes we takeout from McD's or Wendy's and bring it home to eat with milk and fruit or carrots so the meal is not a total wash healthwise as well as being cheaper.

Posted by: janedoe5 | June 16, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

FYI - many restaurants will serve 1/2 portions - you usually need to ask as they often don't have it listed on the menu. At least I have found this to be true!

Posted by: Catwhowalked | June 16, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

For the kid who doesn't eat and just drinks 32 oz of milk--my oldest (just now 6) prefers drinking to eating, so we started replacing some of his servings of milk with Instant Breakfast milkshakes--more calories and nutrients than plain milk, but totally acceptable to him. Might suggest it to your relatives, if they are concerned. My son only likes chicken nuggets when we go out, and only the super-processed kind (the nice chicken tenders they have at Sweetwater are too "real meat" for his taste.) His little brother will eat anything off your plate, go figure.

Posted by: athena21 | June 16, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

We've had good luck just asking if we could get a kid-sized portion of "regular" food.

I don't stress much about the kid's menu, though. We only eat out once a week or so, so it's not that big a deal.

Posted by: newsahm | June 16, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

allyray- my oldest went through a phase (from about age 3-4) where she would eat almost nothing. It was awful, and trying to get her to eat only made things much, much worse. She's just come out of it in the last 6 months or so, I think because her brother and sister (age 1) are still at the "eat anything" stage, and if they are wolfing something down she doesn't want to be left out.

Posted by: floof | June 16, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

When we eat out we order 'adult' food and just split and share as needed. At home we skipped baby food and dished out blander, simpler versions of whatever we were eating. We were lucky that we haven't had any of the food battles that some families have. The kids have to try everything but if they don't want to eat, we don't make a big deal about it and just tell them there will be another meal in a couple hours.

I know the restaurants are higher-end establishments but I'm glad somebody is trying to improve the kids' menus, which tend to be not very good (more ketchup, please).

Posted by: KS100H | June 16, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

The problem with half-size portions is that when they are offered, they cost almost as much as the full portions anyway. So much of the cost of the meal has nothing to do with the food itself - it's the overhead of the restaurant. So if a full portion is $12 and a half portion is $10, you might as well get the full portion and take the extra home.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 16, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

When we go out to a restaurant, the older ones will call "next to dad" just because they know it's real easy to snitch things off my plate. Punks they are! My kids all have their dislikes and preferences, but they will eat pretty much anything - the older they get, the more variety they appreciate.

I like ordering a veriety of foods and sharing with everybody. However, Ms Whacky complains when I share her dessert. What's up with that?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 16, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

(i do think the parents who proclaim that Jack loves sushi are just as tiresome as those who brag about his reading or walking or pooping or whatever)

Posted by: interestingidea1234

Haha! My kid eats sushi, but I don't think it's bragging to say so since my kid will also eat a banana that has been dropped in the dirt...

We have just tried to introduce him to a variety of foods both at home and out to dinner. Sometimes he'll eat just about anything and sometimes he won't eat anything. I try not to worry about it too much - our Dr. says that they judge little guy diets by the week, not the day.
Right now, he has a sore throat, so we are planning on ice cream and blueberries for dinner... :)

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 16, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I AM GOING TO LOSE IT THE NEXT TIME SOMEONE USES THE TERM "VEGGIES." IT'S "VEGETABLES," YOU MORONS! I ASSUME YOU ARE NOT A THREE YEAR OLD.

Posted by: shoveit | June 16, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Holy Kittens, calm down. And stop calling names - that is much more juvenile than saying "veggies" instead of vegetables.

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 16, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey Whacky, the only thing I will share is dessert!

As for kids sneaking food, we called my daughter the OPF eater - Other People's Food. When she was little she'd order something from the kids menu but basically plotted to get a taste from every adults plate. There were some real softies, like 2 Grandpas, that would invite her up on their lap and share their meal. I think about these days now and they seem so long ago!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 16, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

For the child who drinks lots of milk and is super picky - we had this issue. Also - child was tiny and didn't grow well (unlike siblings).

Finally - diagnosis - celiac disease. Removed gluten from the diet, and the child is growing and suddenly enjoys foods he can eat. I noticed the milk preference early on - as a 1 and a half year old, he'd rather drink milk than eat food - but never heard of this disease and since the symptoms are not like an allergy - I never connected the strange eating habits with any specific food.

Yes - children do go through a picky phase, but if it lasts after age 5 - there might be a medical cause.

Posted by: Amelia5 | June 16, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I love kid menus. I wish they had them everywhere, because ordering a la carte (or half portions, etc.) is often really expensive.

I don't care if my kids get chicken fingers and fries once in a blue moon. Then again, we eat a lot of vegetables and healthy food at home and we try to model good eating behavior for the kids. And we are not in a situation where either kid will ONLY eat fries.

That said, it is a totally mixed bag of which kid will eat what, either at home or out. 5 year old sometimes wants chicken fingers and sometimes wants whatever Mama is having. 2 year old almost never wants to eat anything and would prefer to climb the walls.

Posted by: michelleg1 | June 16, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Hah -- Cheeky, that's my mom (a/k/a "the vulture"). We went to breakfast with her and the kids this morning; I ordered for myself and the kids, waitress asked my mom what she'd have, I replied "a fork." Somehow, she orders one poached egg and coffee, and ends up with my potatoes, DD's bacon, half my English muffin, half a pancake from DS, and one of his eggs. But, hey, the calories don't count if you don't order it yourself, right? :-)

As I've written about before, DS is ridiculously picky, and is getting even worse of late (as in, last night he pitched an hour-long fit because I had fixed mac and cheese and he wanted a grilled cheese sandwich -- welcome to the terrible threes). The only, only thing that has made even the slightest bit of headway has been my mom's idea to tell him he'll like something when he's three (now that he is three, we say four). It avoids the fights while still planting the seed that getting big = liking new foods. In the interim, I offer our usual dinners, ignore the whining/fits, and just makes sure he gets plenty of skim milk and the occasional apple juice.

Posted by: laura33 | June 16, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

By the way, what the heck is a "chicken-apple lollipop?" I am picturing something akin to geletin salad on a stick and that is far from appitizing.

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 16, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

By the way, what the heck is a "chicken-apple lollipop?" I am picturing something akin to geletin salad on a stick and that is far from appetizing.

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 16, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

oops sorry for the double post - trying to correct my spelling error AFTER hitting submit apparently did not work.

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 16, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

We always try to be a little healthy (subbing apples or whatever they might have) for the fries. But we don't eat out too much, and the kids sometimes eat off the regular menu anyway, so I'm not super concerned. We do not keep chicken nuggets in the house (when my sister was staying with us years ago, she went to the supermarket to load up on nuggets, soda and some other stuff we don't keep inthe house.

We went to Universal a few weeks ago - and I figured they'd be like Disney. Disney has tried a little bit to be healthier, you can get orange pieces or apple slices or grapes with the kid's meal. But no - there was no choice but to get fries with the kid's meal (or the adult meal, for that matter). I was wholly disappointed with the food choices there...but again, we were on vacation, the kids typically eat well at home, so I don't worry much when we're eating out or on vacation or whatever (we ate out the other night and I had them substitute mandarin oranges instead of the fries...and they also ordered a side of mushrooms, so who cares that they had mac and cheese?).

But I do wish they would have a little more variety. how are kids goign to learn to like and eat new and different things when they are only shown a few? We were at a friend's house for dinner and she made an elaborate dinner. Then I guess she figured it wasn't for kids...and she made them mac and cheese! I was stunned. I mean, again, how are they goign to learn to like what she made, if she never serves it to them? I never cook separately for the kids at home, it wouldn't occur to me...eat what's served, or go hungry. This isn't a restaurant.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | June 16, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

When I said: they have a little more variety... I mean kid's menus....

Posted by: atlmom1234 | June 16, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

capitalhillmom... could you explain more about not attempting to get your child to eat better? My nephew's diet consists mainly of PB&J, bagels, and strawberries and his parents follow your line of reasoning - rarely attempting to have him try something new (he "doesn't like" many things he hasn't tried). Growing up we ate what was put in front of us or we were punished (no snacks, bed early, etc) - result was healthy eating but with some grumbling... I'm not sure why this shouldn't be "attempted" by parents today. Seems more like a control issue (in most situations) than anything else and shouldn't the parents be the ones in control not the kid?

Posted by: JJ321 | June 16, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Our kids love Chinese buffet restaurants. They pick their own meat, starch, and vegetable--usually the same ones every time, but they do take one of each. The dessert table always has fruit along with the cookies etc.

The portion control is great. Less waste by the small kids and the bigger kids aren't left hungry by the kiddie portion.

Also, they are relatively cheap and nobody goes there expecting a hushed, child-free environment.

Posted by: di89 | June 16, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Same thing here JJ. No matter who im working for either SIL babysitting or my normal charges. If they dont eat what I fix they'll be no snacking in between the next meal that makes it much more likly they will be hungry enough to at least try whati fix next.

Posted by: stargirl1055412 | June 16, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

In general, you eat what is served. If you don't eat it, no dessert (if offered) and no snacks are allowed after the meal. There are some exceptions to rule. If one of the kids has a really, really bad reaction to it after trying it... I might sub in something easy. They are usually screwed if they have eaten it before without complaint and this time they have decided that they don't like it after all.

If I know I am serving a side that one of the kids doesn't like, then they only need to eat a spoonful of it. I also make sure something else is served that they will eat. We encourage the kids to try new things and they usually take a bite fairly willingly. They are welcome to say they don't like it or even spit it out and we give them lots of praise for trying something.

Posted by: Billie_R | June 17, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I was once in a Mexican restaurant when two couples sat down next to me, one with a three-year-old daughter that they kept shushing and telling to sit still. When it came time to order, she announced that she wanted a taco. Mom shushed her again and ordered a child's plate. Of course, when the squishy enchilada arrived, she started to cry, whereupon her parents launched into a "We can't take you anywhere!" diatribe.

What principle of good child-rearing mandated that they couldn't just order her the @#$% taco? I can see applying "Take it or leave it" to dinners at home, but in a restaurant where the two items cost about the same, what's the point??

Posted by: PLozar | June 17, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, that kids menu is pretty tiresome. If you ask though, you can usually substitute some kind of vegetable for the fries and juice or milk for the soda. Still, the whole idea of "kid food" is a little odd -- how will the child develop a taste for a healthy variety of foods if they are only given the same foods over and over? As for the kids who "will" only eat junk food, how do they manage to get it if you don't buy it for them? Stop giving them anything but water to drink and the healthy foods you want them to eat, ignore their whining and wait. Hunger will eventually kick in and that stuff will start to taste good if that's all you offer. Unless your kid already has a medical problem, he or she will not starve in front of a plate of vegetables.

Posted by: rh36 | June 17, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

JJ321, you should have dinner at our house sometime! We follow the "you'll eat what's for dinner that night or do without" rule, and if the kids don't want to eat it, tough noogies. Nobody's starved yet, and they've learned to try new things. They actually prefer our cooking from scratch to the frozen meals or processed foods at the store!

As far as eating out goes, with the nearest fast-food places a minimum of 12 miles away from our town, we don't get those kind of battles. When we do go out (which is rare because of the cost; usually our average is three or four times a YEAR), the older daughter likes to order small items that are healthy, while the two-year-old gets served food from our plate (although there are exceptions such as the last time we went to Taco Bell; we gave her her own soft taco from the grown-up options and she demolished about half of it once we wrapped it tightly enough so the filling didn't explode all over). We grow our own veggies (they love swiping the peas and beans out of the bowl when I'm preparing them for dinner or the freezer), and they enjoy our home cooking (as much as possible from scratch; little or no processed foods or "TV dinners"). Even then there are contradictions; for instance, our two-year-old loves to snitch peas out of the bowl when I'm shelling them from our garden. However, the last time I cooked them for supper, she wouldn't go near them! Go figure....

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | June 18, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I have two kids, one 9 and one 12, who happily eat almost anything. The younger one ADORES sushi and asks for it frequently. I have yet to find a food she won't try.

My older child eats enough that the smaller kids' portions are not enough for him, and prefers to order from the regular menu.

Our secret? taking the kids to non-chain restaurants, encouraging them to "try just a bite" and preparing healthy and flavorful foods at home. Kids are not born with a love of bland food! Indeed, my oldest had babyfood less than 5 times and the youngest never had it -- they just ate off my plate, spices, condiments, and all.

Posted by: drixl | June 22, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

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