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Kids Menus in Restaurants. Don’t get me started…

1
My husband and I have always been interested in food. We got together when I was working in a hotel, managing the bar, writing cocktail lists and working with chefs on developing flavours for the hotel’s five-star guests to appreciate, and he, having been a chef, was just starting out in the film industry. Our dates revolved around food and drink and we were almost competitive in our home cooking. When we had children, we felt it was really important to carry on having a lifestyle that meant going out to restaurants. Part of the reason for this was
SelfishMother.com
2
because we felt it was part of our relationship identity — and family lunches replaced our swanky evenings out. We also felt that it was more important to give our children experiences over material things and we wanted to expose them to a world of different flavours and cultures.  

Fast forward, my son is about to turn five, and my daughter is about to turn one, and we have noticed that we are not that welcome in the kind of restaurants that my husband and I like eating in. Now I totally understand why that is. We are messy. We are noisy. We have

SelfishMother.com
3
loads of bags and buggies and things that can get in the way of servers. We are a family, and because of this, we have begun to go out on a Saturday afternoon to the kind of restaurants that make children welcome.

You know the type of place, they’re easy to spot because they have a kids menu in the window. Often owned by chains, with balloons and bright colours and little cups of crayons next to the till. However, no matter which one you go to, the children’s menus are just a little bit limiting. There are a burger and chips, mac & cheese, and

SelfishMother.com
4
some kind of tomato pasta or pizza. Not a veg in sight, the fish is wrapped in batter, and sauces are full of salt and sugar, so I can’t help feeling that they’re not the most healthy choices.

Now I understand how children fetishise certain foods, so I only have two rules when it comes to eating at home. The first rule is I give them what they want for lunch; sausages, chips, frozen peas and tinned sweetcorn — the kind of food that children eat without complaint. Then for supper, I tried to cook meals that the adults will like, and they can

SelfishMother.com
5
either eat that, or part of that, or have a slice of toast a piece of fruit. I won’t pander to them in the evenings because I think it’s important to introduce them to new foods — plus it’s exhausting making different meals for everybody! The second rule is that they must have five fruits or vegetables in the day to get pudding of an evening. The idea is that they eat one good meal without any arguments, but they are offered food that is often outside of their comfort zone on a regular basis. However, my son has begun asking for the kind of food
SelfishMother.com
6
that we get in the restaurants we frequent at the weekends. These menu items have, through repetition and being attached to significant ‘family time,’ become his favourites. My problem with this is that that he’s surprised (and annoyed) that the usual rules apply when these meals are served at home.

So here’s my plea to all restauranteurs across the UK, can we address three things, please?

Nutritional balance.

I know in the restaurant biz that food wastage is a problem. I know that margins on food are really tiny. But I also know that

SelfishMother.com
7
foods like chips, bread and pasta are better for those margins. That a mac and cheese for £4.95 on a kids menu has actually probably got quite a good margin for you guys.  So please, if you do serve mac and cheese, put a vegetable on the side or mix in some peas. Some crudites like carrot or peppers on the side wouldn’t cost much. Just, please, stick anything in there that might be seen as healthy and good, so they’re not primarily consuming protein, carbohydrates and saturated fats. Alright have a burger on your menu, by all means, but I can’t
SelfishMother.com
8
get my head around the fact that you need extra carbohydrates (especially extra fatty and salty ones) in the form of chips in a meal for kids who are often under school-age. When I talk about balance, I don’t mean that you have to offer, you know, the weirdest and most wonderful stuff. I just mean that the influence that you have is beyond that meal, beyond that day, so take responsibility for a bit of variety. My kids will still eat it all with a bugger-ton of ketchup, but at least they’ll see that treat food doesn’t always mean unhealthy food.
SelfishMother.com
9

Cook it properly?

Another objection I have about kids food in restaurants is the preparation. I hate complaining in public but the amount of times I’ve had to send children’s food back because it is inedible makes me incredulous. I don’t expect the moon on a stick. I just expect kids food to be cooked with the same care as adult food. If my kids are served a meal that’s so over microwaved it’s become hard, or so hastily rushed it’s undercooked, they won’t eat it. So often these meals are thrown together in a sub-par way. Which

SelfishMother.com
10
results in hangry kids with nothing to do when adult food is on the table but spill drinks and lick salt sellers. This might make me sound like a twat but surely it’s not that hard to avoid microwaving the s*** out of stuff? The number of times my son has been served microwave-wrinkled peas when all you need to do is boil a kettle and stick ‘em in water for three minutes? I once had to return a burger because the bun was so hard it made a noise when you tapped it on the table.

Portion Size

My final restaurant bugbear is actually starting to

SelfishMother.com
11
get addressed a little bit. It’s gearing kids food portions towards kids bellies. As I said I’ve got a one-year-old, and a four-year-old and the 1-year-old will need a decent amount of food on a plate because with baby led weaning, half it ends up on the floor. The four-year-old will eat a reasonably sized meal, but anything that is aimed at a 10-year-old is gonna overwhelm either of them.  If you offer a kids menu where the portion sizes are larger, it is either worth saying on the menu so that I can buy one and split it between the two of them, or
SelfishMother.com
12
(more profitably) it is worth splitting your menu into under fives and over fives. For example, one of the reasons that I go to Pho over and over again is because apart from the fact that they make a reasonably decent Pho, that they have a children’s menu that is scaleable. They offer a ‘picking plate’ for under twos and a veritable range of healthy options for older ones. That picking plate is worth its weight in gold because I will go there over and over and give them all my money.

So without wanting to end on a really negative point, I’m

SelfishMother.com
13
just going to highlight a couple of the kids’ places that I think of quite good.

Pho – Scalable, healthy, some options to remove ‘bits’ or have things ‘plain’ if you prefer.

Wahaca – Build your own wraps taste good and come with veggies. But tbh, mine’l eat anything of the street food section.

Jamie’s Italian – IF THEY COOK IT WELL IT’S GREAT

Giraffe – Great range of foods, not so hot on the plastic front; you often leave with balloons on plastic sticks and little plastic giraffes whose legs would impale an unsuspecting

SelfishMother.com
14
turtle if it ended up washed out to sea.

Beefeater – A nice touch is you can swap sides to cater for your kids’ tastes.

Wagamamas – A well-proportioned mix of foods but only three sides on offer (cucumber, carrot and sweetcorn) on many of the smaller dishes.

River Cottage Canteen – for those extra flush parents, these guys actually make good kids food.

It looks like I’m not alone either, The Soil Association’s Out To Lunch Campaign and Action on Sugar’s combined research prove that kids menu items are too unhealthy, even in

SelfishMother.com
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comparison to the adult food on offer. 
SelfishMother.com
Emily Goodman

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- 22 Nov 18

My husband and I have always been interested in food. We got together when I was working in a hotel, managing the bar, writing cocktail lists and working with chefs on developing flavours for the hotel’s five-star guests to appreciate, and he, having been a chef, was just starting out in the film industry. Our dates revolved around food and drink and we were almost competitive in our home cooking. When we had children, we felt it was really important to carry on having a lifestyle that meant going out to restaurants. Part of the reason for this was because we felt it was part of our relationship identity — and family lunches replaced our swanky evenings out. We also felt that it was more important to give our children experiences over material things and we wanted to expose them to a world of different flavours and cultures.  

Fast forward, my son is about to turn five, and my daughter is about to turn one, and we have noticed that we are not that welcome in the kind of restaurants that my husband and I like eating in. Now I totally understand why that is. We are messy. We are noisy. We have loads of bags and buggies and things that can get in the way of servers. We are a family, and because of this, we have begun to go out on a Saturday afternoon to the kind of restaurants that make children welcome.

You know the type of place, they’re easy to spot because they have a kids menu in the window. Often owned by chains, with balloons and bright colours and little cups of crayons next to the till. However, no matter which one you go to, the children’s menus are just a little bit limiting. There are a burger and chips, mac & cheese, and some kind of tomato pasta or pizza. Not a veg in sight, the fish is wrapped in batter, and sauces are full of salt and sugar, so I can’t help feeling that they’re not the most healthy choices.

Now I understand how children fetishise certain foods, so I only have two rules when it comes to eating at home. The first rule is I give them what they want for lunch; sausages, chips, frozen peas and tinned sweetcorn — the kind of food that children eat without complaint. Then for supper, I tried to cook meals that the adults will like, and they can either eat that, or part of that, or have a slice of toast a piece of fruit. I won’t pander to them in the evenings because I think it’s important to introduce them to new foods — plus it’s exhausting making different meals for everybody! The second rule is that they must have five fruits or vegetables in the day to get pudding of an evening. The idea is that they eat one good meal without any arguments, but they are offered food that is often outside of their comfort zone on a regular basis. However, my son has begun asking for the kind of food that we get in the restaurants we frequent at the weekends. These menu items have, through repetition and being attached to significant ‘family time,’ become his favourites. My problem with this is that that he’s surprised (and annoyed) that the usual rules apply when these meals are served at home.

So here’s my plea to all restauranteurs across the UK, can we address three things, please?

  1. Nutritional balance.

I know in the restaurant biz that food wastage is a problem. I know that margins on food are really tiny. But I also know that foods like chips, bread and pasta are better for those margins. That a mac and cheese for £4.95 on a kids menu has actually probably got quite a good margin for you guys.  So please, if you do serve mac and cheese, put a vegetable on the side or mix in some peas. Some crudites like carrot or peppers on the side wouldn’t cost much. Just, please, stick anything in there that might be seen as healthy and good, so they’re not primarily consuming protein, carbohydrates and saturated fats. Alright have a burger on your menu, by all means, but I can’t get my head around the fact that you need extra carbohydrates (especially extra fatty and salty ones) in the form of chips in a meal for kids who are often under school-age. When I talk about balance, I don’t mean that you have to offer, you know, the weirdest and most wonderful stuff. I just mean that the influence that you have is beyond that meal, beyond that day, so take responsibility for a bit of variety. My kids will still eat it all with a bugger-ton of ketchup, but at least they’ll see that treat food doesn’t always mean unhealthy food.

  1. Cook it properly?

Another objection I have about kids food in restaurants is the preparation. I hate complaining in public but the amount of times I’ve had to send children’s food back because it is inedible makes me incredulous. I don’t expect the moon on a stick. I just expect kids food to be cooked with the same care as adult food. If my kids are served a meal that’s so over microwaved it’s become hard, or so hastily rushed it’s undercooked, they won’t eat it. So often these meals are thrown together in a sub-par way. Which results in hangry kids with nothing to do when adult food is on the table but spill drinks and lick salt sellers. This might make me sound like a twat but surely it’s not that hard to avoid microwaving the s*** out of stuff? The number of times my son has been served microwave-wrinkled peas when all you need to do is boil a kettle and stick ‘em in water for three minutes? I once had to return a burger because the bun was so hard it made a noise when you tapped it on the table.

  1. Portion Size

My final restaurant bugbear is actually starting to get addressed a little bit. It’s gearing kids food portions towards kids bellies. As I said I’ve got a one-year-old, and a four-year-old and the 1-year-old will need a decent amount of food on a plate because with baby led weaning, half it ends up on the floor. The four-year-old will eat a reasonably sized meal, but anything that is aimed at a 10-year-old is gonna overwhelm either of them.  If you offer a kids menu where the portion sizes are larger, it is either worth saying on the menu so that I can buy one and split it between the two of them, or (more profitably) it is worth splitting your menu into under fives and over fives. For example, one of the reasons that I go to Pho over and over again is because apart from the fact that they make a reasonably decent Pho, that they have a children’s menu that is scaleable. They offer a ‘picking plate’ for under twos and a veritable range of healthy options for older ones. That picking plate is worth its weight in gold because I will go there over and over and give them all my money.

So without wanting to end on a really negative point, I’m just going to highlight a couple of the kids’ places that I think of quite good.

Pho – Scalable, healthy, some options to remove ‘bits’ or have things ‘plain’ if you prefer.

Wahaca – Build your own wraps taste good and come with veggies. But tbh, mine’l eat anything of the street food section.

Jamie’s Italian – IF THEY COOK IT WELL IT’S GREAT

Giraffe – Great range of foods, not so hot on the plastic front; you often leave with balloons on plastic sticks and little plastic giraffes whose legs would impale an unsuspecting turtle if it ended up washed out to sea.

Beefeater – A nice touch is you can swap sides to cater for your kids’ tastes.

Wagamamas – A well-proportioned mix of foods but only three sides on offer (cucumber, carrot and sweetcorn) on many of the smaller dishes.

River Cottage Canteen – for those extra flush parents, these guys actually make good kids food.

It looks like I’m not alone either, The Soil Association’s Out To Lunch Campaign and Action on Sugar’s combined research prove that kids menu items are too unhealthy, even in comparison to the adult food on offer. 

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Emily Goodman

Freelance writer, mother of two, wine 'enthusiast'.

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