Just Say No to Kid's Menus

Even at 10-weeks-old Mason loved dining out. He flashed this gummy grin as my dish was served at Jones restaurant in Philadelphia. (Read about the ornery thing he did next!)

Kid’s menus bum me out.  The ones that I’ve seen have the same overpriced staples: mac ‘n’ cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, and hot dogs made with white bread or pasta and served with a side of fries. The part that frustrates me most is it’s easy to put a more healthful spin on these dishes by using brown rice or whole-gain bread or pasta, and serving veggies and fruit on the side instead of fries. So why do so many restaurants still offer junk food for kids? Do they assume that kids only like junk food? Why not make child-size portions of healthy, interesting dishes from the adult menu? Promoting this kind of eating only contributes to this country’s childhood obesity problem.

We love taking Mason out, so we’ve come up with ways for him to eat well in restaurants. Here’s how we make it work for us. Any tips to add?

Skip the kid’s menu. Unless the restaurant you go to is an anomaly and the kid’s menu is filled with nutritious foods, order from the adult menu instead.

Make a finger food buffet. Chris and I order several small dishes of foods that we know Mason will like, then we cut it up into bite-size pieces and give him several choices.

Split a dish between two kids. We went out to lunch with our friends and their 15-month-old son Sal last Sunday, and the boys split an order of whole-grain pancakes topped with spiced fruit (from the adult menu). They loved it.

Save leftovers for lunch. When we go to Cafe Henri, a French bistro in our neighborhood, we order crepes from the adult menu for Mason. He eats one for dinner and the other for lunch the next day, at home.

Try new things. Mason’s tried so many things at restaurants that we wouldn’t normally make at home, including lobster ravioli, paella, gazpacho, and foie gras. Watching him enjoy these unexpected foods is fun for everyone!

Splurge smarter. I believe in letting Mason indulge so we order one dessert that the three of us share. Everyone gets a bite of sweet without going overboard.

As an aside, I LOVE these disposable place mats from Target. They’re decorated with fun Sesame Street characters, and they stick right to the table. Mason can eat finger foods without us having to worry about him picking up germs from the bare table.

12 thoughts on “Just Say No to Kid's Menus

  1. I completely agree. I usually order a meal for me that I know will please the kid. That way I eat a smaller portion and he gets healthy adult food too! Besides, why do restaurants think kids will only eat hot dogs and mac and cheese? Also, thanks for the advice about saving the other portion for lunch! I’ve always been afraid of ordering a whole meal assuming he would waste the rest. Genius!

  2. I was surprised at Olive Garden the kids menu offered broccoli and grapes, two of John’s favorites, which was great cause he won’t eat french fries.

  3. I completely agree, I don’t know why they want to stuff our kids so full of junky flavorless food. I was excited when I saw steamed veggies and salmon on a kids menu, when it arrived thoughmy son wouldn’t eat it and I couldn’t figure out why till I tasted it, it was horrible! No flavor or seasoning at all. My son loves fish but wouldn’t eat this so while healthy, still sucked. So I agree, I order something he will like and share!

  4. I too order from the regular for my son and I to share. The only reason we get a kids menu is for the crayons! Also, you can buy a reusable placemat that’s called, the tiny diner. I think I found it at Babies R Us. We loved ours when our oldest was little and we’ll use it again for his little brother!

  5. The first time I ever ordered from the kids menu, I chose a healthy item, but got the name mixed up and ended up ordering the worst! I’m glad that particular restaurant did have a healty option. Usually we split our own meals, because even the kids portions are usually too big.

  6. My daughter loves green beans, so we often order an extra side of them. Some place,s for instance Bob Evans, have a fruit plate, that she quite enjoys. We also share our food. We are lucky that our daughter will eat almost anything.

  7. We do the same thing. I’m not sure my dog would eat most items off of kids’ menus from restaurants (okay, a slight exaggeration). To say nothing of the fact that it seems most kids’ menu items are fried. Fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried, fried, fried. We, too, make a finger food buffet based on what we order. In some cases (not all), it’s healthier, and it absolutely provides our child with a sense of what slightly more real food is like.

  8. There is one restaurant I have absolutely no problem ordering kids meals from and that’s Jason’s Deli. The do have grilled cheese etc but it comes on wheat (gasp!). Their mac n cheese is whole grain and made with real cheese. Their whole focus on kids meals is as healthy as possible. But in many cases for my youngest son, we share with him or order a separate fruit bowl or side of rice, one of his favorites.

  9. I have a 6 month old so we haven’t got to experience the kids menu yet, but I enjoyed reading the comments (tips) on ordering off the adult menu and sharing with your child. I’m not sure if he will be a picky eater or not, but if he is, I will try to encourage him to not to get just the fried stuff because there are more options on the adult menu that are tasty.

  10. I, having worked cooking in kitchens, became very disheartened with alot of today’s parents. All too often a somewhat to mostly set of healthy adult plates go out with four orders of chicken strips &/or hotdogs. At one restuarant I worked at we offered a PB & J on white bread( there was wheat bread that was never requested) & it always disappoitnted me to see what I consider to be an after-school snack type meal being served to kids while there parents order prime rib entrees. The way it was explained to me by the servers was that I had no kids (at the time I didn’t) & that is all most kids will eat, long & short of it. My wonder was this, is it all they will eat or all their parents offer them to eat. I applaud most of the previous comments for stating the opposite, however the volume of food I prepared tells me what the norm is & that is that Americans tend to set their little ones up for a nutrionally terrible start of a sodium-laden, sugar enriched diet. Wish I could say it was otherwise.

  11. We have a (almost) 1 year old she has been eating ‘whole’ food since 6 months. I have bring food just in case the restaurant only has large or UN-healthy options. Mack is sugar free (ok her mum mum’s have .25 g of sug). I have been know to go next door to a whole foods or other grocery store and hit the salad bar to get her food that is considered except able (normally grilled chicken and zucchini. We try and have a ikea ice cube tray (makes 9 heart cubes and fits in a zip lock) to use as a plate for her, it is way more fun for her and a lot less stress for mommy

  12. I don’t eat fries and my baby doesn’t eat fries. As well as white rice,white pasta, anything heavy on salt,or really much junk food at all. If there is any “junk food” eaten in our family,it is as a treat only. This is why my son will never eat off of a regular children’s menu. If I wouldn’t eat it,he will not eat it-at least until he’s old enough to buy his own meals,and by then,I’m hoping that I’ll have taught him well enough ;).

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