This is The Feeding Diaries, an ongoing series about the feeding escapades in my house.
Every year we go to Red Lobster for a family member’s birthday. This year, Big A announced she wanted to order lobster. I suggested we share the big lobster meal and she agreed. I was ecstatic to find her opting out of the kids’ menu.
I posted pictures on the Raise Healthy Eaters’ Facebook page, saying how I wish food on kids’ menu were just smaller portions of regular menu items, and got a variety of comments:
“I agree, but I also feel like we eat at restaurants so seldom that I don’t really worry about it.”
“We always share the adult food, and say no to the kids menu.”
It seems some parents are strongly against “kid food” while others were okay with it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I really don’t have strong feelings either way. And here’s why.
Whose job is it to feed kids anyway
Due to a variety of factors, family eating patterns began to change around the 1970s. Frozen dinners and other convenience foods popped up everywhere and eating out grew from an occasional outing to a regular occurrence. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Report, in the late 1970’s 18% of calories were consumed away from home but by 2005-2008 that number jumped to 32%.
It’s easy to blame the food industry but the truth is they are running a business. And businesses give people what they want, not what they need. If you went to buy your umpteenth pair of black shoes, would the department store tell you “no” because you don’t really need them? That doesn’t happen! As long as there’s a market for chicken nuggets they won’t go away. And if people continue to believe large portions provide value, they won’t go away either.
Parents will always do a much better job of feeding their kids than a restaurant or packaged food designed for kids ever could. The problem occurs when parents allow businesses to take over this very important job. So in our house, eating out is a treat that occurs about once a week.
I refuse to make a big deal out of the kids’ menu
I’d love to say my kids have no interest in the kids’ menu but that would be a lie. Big A loves chicken nuggets and Little D is fan of mac and cheese and burgers. I could insist they split a meal off the regular menu — forbidding the kid fare — but that would bring even more attention to kids’ meals. So they get to order from them, but I do have some rules.
I simply ask that if we are at a Mexican restaurant that they order Mexican (no burgers at a Mexican or Chinese restaurant please!). If it’s the second night eating out, usually when on vacation, they need to order something different than the previous night. And if the main meal is fried, the side dish can’t be fried.
Restaurants can also be a way to expand kids’ tastes, especially with ethnic foods. Before going someplace new, I’ll check out the restaurant’s menu online to see if there’s something the kids will like. For example, there’s a new Thai place nearby and I spy some noodle dishes, chicken on a stick and peanut sauce for dipping that can get the kids interested so that’s on the list to try out. But when meeting family members out, we usually choose kid-friendly places where children can be loud and the typical kids’ menu reigns.
Do I wish “kid food” was never invented? Definitely! But I refuse to give the topic too much of my time and energy. I’m sure my kids will eventually outgrow kid food if I do my job of exposing them to a wider variety. I just don’t expect restaurants or food companies to do that for me.
What’s your take on kid food and the kids’ menu at restaurants?