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TDG: All In The Family: A Children's Menu Odyssey


Fat Guy
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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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More importantly, if it's going to be unhealthy, the kids should at least have the option of having the food served with bacon.

Damn straight!

Good article, Dean. This is a constant source of frustration for us, and why we so often wind up eating at Asian restaurants where we can just feed the kids whatever we're eating.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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I don't have kids, but kid's menus usually make me wonder-- always hot dogs and chicken fingers or some such. I was always encouraged to try stuff on the "adult" menu and I attribute part of my adventuresome eating habits to having something interesting to eat-- a love affair with linguini in white clam sauce at a funky little neighborhood Italian joint comes to mind when I was about 6 or so. I can still imagine tasting that.

Also, why don't restaurants offer "kiddy cocktails" if you will? Or just more creative non-alcoholic drinks. I would have thought it was really cool when I was a kid to have something other than a coke, a glass of milk, or an iced tea? Plus, think of the profit margins on a fresh fruit smoothie or something made to order like that-- drinks some adults would like to have.

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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Also, why don't restaurants offer "kiddy cocktails" if you will? Or just more creative non-alcoholic drinks. I would have thought it was really cool when I was a kid to have something other than a coke, a glass of milk, or an iced tea? Plus, think of the profit margins on a fresh fruit smoothie or something made to order like that-- drinks some adults would like to have.

More restaurants are offering special kids' drinks. I've seen smoothies and other juice-based drinks, and they're typically not discounted at all.

Some restaurants are truly trying to make some effort to improve the kids' selections, but they're usually the independents and smaller chains.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Fat Guy follows the Varmint theory kind of in reverse, or maybe inverse, or converse, or contrapositive, I can't keep them straight. Anyway what he does is if we're invited to a meal at someone's home and there will be kids there, and he's on the phone making the final arrangements, he will at some time during the conversation put on his serious-low-quiet voice and say, "Now listen, I want to make clear that I don't believe in or support age discrimination, so if there are any special items prepared for the kids such as chicken fingers or hot dogs I expect to have the option of eating those in addition to or instead of the other food." Kids by the way are fascinated when he eats the same food as they do.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Fat Guy follows the Varmint theory kind of in reverse, or maybe inverse, or converse, or contrapositive, I can't keep them straight. Anyway what he does is if we're invited to a meal at someone's home and there will be kids there, and he's on the phone making the final arrangements, he will at some time during the conversation put on his serious-low-quiet voice and say, "Now listen, I want to make clear that I don't believe in or support age discrimination, so if there are any special items prepared for the kids such as chicken fingers or hot dogs I expect to have the option of eating those in addition to or instead of the other food." Kids by the way are fascinated when he eats the same food as they do.

So does he eat at the kids' table at Thanksgiving, too?

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Parents don't really want Junior to order a $7 burger when they know he'll only eat a quarter of it. My seven-year-old daughter ordered a $14 chicken pasta dish the other day, which she loved. She ate a third of it.

My mother was ingenious in this regard. When we used to travel we only ate at restaurants for breakfast. Mom and Dad would let us kids order anything we wanted. The oldest three kids were old enough at this time to eat what they ordered, but my sister and I would invariably order some huge breakfast that we couldn't finish on a bet. Mom would order toast and Dad would order oatmeal. Then they'd finish everything we couldn't.

The problem is, my mother used to continue this pattern when we were in our late teens, and she often went hungry.

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For some reason, someone got the idea that children are all incredibly picky and won't eat "strange" foods, whatever those might be. Now, I'll agree that small children can be incredibly choosy, and can appear to live on air or macaroni and cheese for weeks at a time, but they also learn what is typical from what they are exposed to on a regular basis. It's sad that in going to restaurants that often have a great variety for adults, children aren't even given a chance to try something outside the box.

I have two boys, both under the age of five. Now, I will say we rarely take them to restaurants of the non fast food kind, but that's mainly because they're both small and have the energy level of speed addicts - so I spare both my husband and I as well as those around us from a nasty dining experience. That said, their favorite foods are a wee bit different than typical, mainly because we feed them what we eat - they love falafel, sushi, hummus (which tastes really good on grapes, my oldest discovered), and cellophane noodles. And neither would touch a chicken finger if you promised them a trip to Disneyland :laugh:

Edited by tejon (log)

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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One of the advantages of living in a large city is that your kids are much less likely to be picky eaters--assuming you aren't. When my daughter when off to college at 17, her biggest challenge was trying to round up dorm mates adventurous enough to try something beyond pizza. Don't think she got many takers for something as commonplace as dim sum--most kids from small towns have never heard of it.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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This has a lot to do with why my partner Bruce and I are moving (some time in the next two months, for sure) to Delaware: we want to be closer to his grandlads, ages three and six. We want them to have the chance to try new foods, to hear new music, to explore museums and zoos and everything else.

The big problem is Bruce's daughter, the mother of said grandlads. SHE is the one who has been feeding them EasyMac almost every dinner since they were weaned. SHE is the one who doesn't want to explore with her palate. SHE is the one who finds museums and zoos and such a bother, because it means she has to walk from place to place. SHE is the one who turns off the stereo when the older child turns it up, because he likes it loud and she likes it silent.

I don't remember my parents having any trouble getting my sister and myself to eat new and different things. But I also remember my mother, a transplanted upstate New Yorker, learning how to make enchiladas and chili because we lived in SoCal and it made sense to her that we enjoy the foods of our region. This leads me to believe that if parents don't believe in exploration, the children will never learn. The two months until we move are going to be long ones, as far as I'm concerned. Those grandlads need us NOW!

We'll not discriminate great from small.

No, we'll serve anyone - meaning anyone -

And to anyone at all!

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As an impartial observer of many of my friends' children, I can say with a high degree of certainty that the following combinations can occur:

Picky parents, adventurous children

Adventurous parents, picky children

Picky parents, picky children

Adventurous parents, adventurous children

There does seem to be some correlation (and most likely causation) between the parent and child attitudes, but there are no guarantees. One thing I can say for sure, though: if your kids are picky eaters, DO NOT MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF IT. Once a child's eating habits become an obvious source of annoyance for parents, there develops a high risk that it will become a tool of manipulation. Kids are brilliant in this regard: nearly 100% of my friends' kids are able to outsmart their parents this way, and nearly 0% of my friends can see it happening even though it's so plainly obvious to any observer.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Also, why don't restaurants offer "kiddy cocktails" if you will? Or just more creative non-alcoholic drinks.

It was a huge treat for my siblings & me to get a Shirley Temple whenever we went out to eat - Soda! And it's pink! And a maraschino cherry! I remeber feeling so grown up when the waiter brought my drink and set it on a cocktail napkin. Does anyone still order those?

We usually order milk or lemonade for Emma (age 4) and just milk for Ian, but only because they are still a little young to be drinking soda.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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That matrix is a bit oversimplified, FG, as the parents' tastes may not be in total alignment, either. I certainly wouldn't consider Mrs. Varmint very picky, but there are a number of things she won't eat: red meat, green peppers, spicy (hot) food, cilantro, and a couple other things. Plus, Mrs. Varmint absolutely, positively hates to cook. She's a physician who works 20-30 hours a week for the county health department. She manages to put meals together for the L'il Varmints. She manages to add some fruit and vegetables to every meal. She makes a mean meatloaf (ground turkey, of course), lasagna, pasties and that's about it. Otherwise, she relies on pasta and convenience foods that look amazingly similar to the fare that's found on children's menus. I cook during the weekends, and I obviously do far more than her. Thus, the kids get a mix of stuff, but for 5 days a week, it's pretty standard food.

The children are trying things. One loves calamari. Another likes salad and vegetables. A third can't wait for the sockeye salmon season. There's really no rhyme or reason to their likes or dislikes, and we don't worry about it too much. However, when we get to a restaurant with a kids menu, they usually order off of it. That's a battle that isn't worth fighting with my kids, as it's much easier to fight with the restaurant industry! :wink:

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Also, why don't restaurants offer "kiddy cocktails" if you will? Or just more creative non-alcoholic drinks.

It was a huge treat for my siblings & me to get a Shirley Temple whenever we went out to eat - Soda! And it's pink! And a maraschino cherry! I remeber feeling so grown up when the waiter brought my drink and set it on a cocktail napkin. Does anyone still order those?

We usually order milk or lemonade for Emma (age 4) and just milk for Ian, but only because they are still a little young to be drinking soda.

We just carry around a case of Jolt for the kids.

A lot of places will make Shirley Temples if you ask. The other thing I do from time to time is to order a lemonade, but have them doctor it up a bit with some fruit juice, such as cranberry, grapefruit, or simple ol' orange juice. I then like to ask my children to describe the flavors of this funky lemonade. It's kind of fun.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I have posted this before in another topic, but this is an interesting take on what kid will and won't eat Kids at the Fat Duck

I agree that the best places tend to take at least reasonably adventurous kids are ethnic places, or anywhere where the food tends to be centrally served. As long as the place has no stupid minimum order rules. Tapas places are a good idea as well. Then the kids can try a little bit of everything.

I personally remember being strangely picky as a child. I used to love seafood, especially Mussels (A me and my Dad thing, My Mum couldn't stand them!), I loved spicy food, but couldn't eat most salads or sausages and didn't like tomato ketchup, or gravy!

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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What were the coolest kids menus that y'all have encountered?  Has anyone seen at least one that was creative (with respect to the food itself, that is, rather than what they called it)?

Legal Seafood has a good children's menu. In addition to the usual suspects it's possible to get grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, and mashed potatoes or rice (Emma's favorite meal) for your l'il darlins. They also feature fresh cod fish sticks.

LS is just about the best kid's menu we've found, and we eat out a lot. Also notable is a local chain called Rio Grande Cafe - their menu has quesadillas, chicken and steak fajitas, and enchiladas in pint-sized portions.

I would love to see some places at a higher price point offer inventive kid's meals, but I suspect this doesn't happen because families aren't the target audience for fine-dining establishments.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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I would love to see some places at a higher price point offer inventive kid's meals, but I suspect this doesn't happen because families aren't the target audience for fine-dining establishments.

That's why places such as Jaleo or Zaytinya in DC are perfect for kids. Restaurants that serve "family style" work really well, too.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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That's why places such as Jaleo or Zaytinya in DC are perfect for kids.  Restaurants that serve "family style" work really well, too.

We've taken Emma to Jaleo and she had a great time. She was intrigued by the idea of getting all sorts of little things. We haven't been to Zaytinya with the kids but will in the near future.

And yes, the family style thing is why we wind up in asian places so often, although there are a couple of spaghetti and meatballs type places around here that serve that way too.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Do restaurants in other countries have "children's menus" or just smaller portions of the regular entrees?  What's the story?

Restaurants in this other country with children's menus tend to be part of the same chains as the restaurants with children's menus in your country. What I have found to be the case is that non-chain restaurants tend to be very flexible when it comes to feeding kids--they'll do half portions or suggest apps or encourage sharing or whatever. Far more satisfactory than the kids in a ghetto approach.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Having just completed a road trip last week I noticed a trend of "branding" the kids menus. Kraft Mac and Cheese, Kool Aid drinks, Jello Brand desserts etc.

I wondered if the resteruants serving these items recieve discounts on the purchases in order to have the brands on all the tent cards?

Even the coloring books provided to the kids featured brand name charcters.

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Maybe I'm less prepared than some of the other road trippers here, but I find that the bigger problem is that the "adult" menus are as boring, repetitive and deep fried as the kids menu. If you can even find a non-chain without spending 40 minutes driving around the countryside, they still offer the same boring crap as anyplace else.

In my experience, the odds of coming across a great "hidden" chicken fried steak place or po-boy shack within 10 miles of a major highway are pretty slim.

Or maybe someone has some pointers....

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Gee, my daughter never voluntarily ate off a kid's menu in her life. She amazed all the Koreans by eating sushi off the platter at 4.

We rarely had snacks around the house, and for dinner she ate what was put in front of her. Which was good stuff.

I have friends who will go back into the kitchen and fix something different for the kids if they decide they don't feel like what's for dinner. That was never an option in my house.

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