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Kids' Menus at Most Restaurants - Are They Bad for Children's Nutrition?

Updated on February 12, 2020
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I have been freelance writing ever since elementary school. My passions include music, age-appropriate dance, travel, and more.

Ahhh…the kids’ menu at most restaurants – it includes the usual array of foods offered to them in which gastronomes, chefs, and restaurateurs find it both palatable and fun, like hot dogs, hamburgers, and macaroni and cheese.

Because of recent health concerns, mainly childhood obesity, the issues of those items being unhealthful (too much fat, sugar, and salt, etc.) make most parents reconsider serving them the menus that come with those activity inserts like coloring pages and word puzzles. Also, they develop a dead palate in which children favor ice cream instead of amandine green beans. That concerns epicureans who want children to try a variety of foods.

This menu for the youngsters is far more than baneful food choices littered with cartoons and illustrations that are too cartoony.

From Lamb Chops to Chicken Strips

Kids' menus date back to the 1920's, when Congress legislated Prohibition. Restaurants up until the enactment catered only to adults in the upper class. But with the law ceasing sales of alcohol, revenue declined.

The owners of restaurants turned to serving foods to children, but the catch was that they had to follow guidelines in the menus' development. According to pediatrician Emmett Holt, parents had to have their children wait until age 10 to eat ham, bacon, corn, cod, tomato soup, or lemonade. Also, they couldn't eat pastries, pies, tarts, nuts, raisins, and fresh fruits.

Instead, the menu items included plain omelettes, prune whip, and lamb chops. Ironically, Holt ate cheese, pickles, pies, cakes, and biscuits when he was a young child.

We wonder if we could bring back the kiddie fare of years past, rather than the same old mac and cheese and chicken fingers...
We wonder if we could bring back the kiddie fare of years past, rather than the same old mac and cheese and chicken fingers... | Source

A growing industry centered on processed foods further shaped the kids' menu, and in 1973, Indianapolis-based chain Burger Chef packaged Funmeals. Inside every box were a small burger, small fries, a cup of soda, and a dessert. The package was adorned with puzzles, mazes, riddles, and comic strips.

Later, Burger Chef included small vinyl records featuring stories of their mascots Burger Chef, Jeff and the Fangburger family. In 1977, they promoted tie-in products for Star Wars, further luring parents and children alike.

That's pretty good, but I would like to see veggies served as side dishes.
That's pretty good, but I would like to see veggies served as side dishes. | Source

Concerns today

Perceptions of the kiddie restaurant fare - including parents, nutritionists, and some gourmets - are far from pleasing .

Restaurant management agrees that there is a frugality and labor benefit to serving such crud to the youngest patrons. But there is a cost – most of them harbor unnecessary amounts of saturated fat, sugar, white flour, and sodium.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest reported that even with changes to the menus, the items in most of the chains harbor high sodium levels that appall personal trainers and nutritionists.

Other than the kids’ menus’ adversities on their consumers’ hearts and girths, they can muffle the palate as well. This culinary assimilator serves virtually the hackneyed menu items and most serve nary a vegetable save for the pommes frites.

The sameness can lead to picky eater syndrome. The feast of sweet, salty, and fat fare tires the palate, causing most kids to treat vegetables as enemies.

One food critic stated that almost all eateries (with the exception of fine dining) offer chicken strips and his own kids would eat them wherever he dines out with them. A restaurateur said virtually the same thing: "If you don’t ask your children to try things, how will they ever know what they’re capable of?"

What that means is that most kids are reluctant to try anything new for a change.

Macaroni and cheese - a staple in most kids' menus.
Macaroni and cheese - a staple in most kids' menus. | Source

A Turning Trend

Recently, restaurants considered the adverse effects of serving the same, yet considerably fun fare to their kids. Thus, they turned to new food trends as international inspirations, organic fruits and vegetables, locally raised meats, poultry, game, and fish, and the phasing out of trans fats. In 2009, some restaurants added new items to their kids' menus that were junior versions of regular items.

"We've always fed kids off of the main menu but decided it was time to give them their own dishes," said PF Chang culinary director Gregg Piazzi, "We didn't want to give them a plate of fried chicken fingers and french fries, but rather a meal that comes close to what we serve for their parents, just smaller and more kid-friendly."

Trying New Foods Has Since Become Something that Restaurants Are Aware Of Recently

Lessons Learned from France

Like most other foreign countries, France serves high-quality school lunches.

In contrast to the dead-to-the-palate menu of tater tots and pizza sticks, the menu consists of green beans amandine, rabbit, and whatever seemed out of place on a typical American kids’ menu. Even in the early 1900's, those in Paris offered the same 3 courses, but sized to children's appetites.

So why can’t they be similar in English-speaking nations, including the USA? Oftentimes, it's all in the cost-cutting – those real meals cost more than those burgers, and it’s a pain to make in terms of cafeteria cooking.

That money-saving measure comes with a hefty price. It contains many synthetic preservatives and chemicals as well as fat and sugar, something those organic and locally-grown foods don’t have.

It makes parents and dietitians alike wonder: why can't said English-speaking nations be more like France in terms of most restaurants' kids' menus?

Eating Tips

Should kids stay away from the cartoony world of the kids' menu? Unless it's full of healthier fare or has at least one item that is nutritionally sound, then they should stay away from it. Kids need to try new foods, so here are some tips to help you get started.

Start Them Early and at Home
One of the new foods kids don't like are vegetables, so try to strategicaly include them at every meal. Sneak them in omelets, puree them and blend them in tomato sauce, and disguise them so your kids won't notice.

Bring Activities from Home and Have them Order from the Real Menu
Kids' menus have activities like coloring pages, crossword puzzles, and other kid-friendly stuff, so bring your drawing pads and crayons from home. Encourage them to order from the menu before you do by doing it together. Sharing a plate with you and you child not only saves you calories, but it encourages them to try something new.

Petition Restaurants to Change the Kids' Menus
Not only it would launch them into a new trend, but it also compels your children to eat something similar to what you're eating. Also, it will teach them the importance on informed decisions in terms of nutrition as well, because by following the above rules, they'll know what's good and what's not so good for them.


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