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Kids' Menus At Most Restaurants - Are they Bad for Children's Nutrition?

Updated on August 10, 2012

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.

A Victim Myself

As a child growing up in New Jersey, my parents served me the usual kids’ fare after I fell out of favor with food from the Philippines. They convinced me to eat it, but I believed it was too unappealing. My favorite food was fettuccine alfredo, followed by macaroni and cheese, and the white flour-cheese combo made me plumper. I also favored hot dogs over sinigang, hamburgers over wingsilop, and so forth. I ordered from virtually every kids’ menu from virtually every dining venue.

As a result, aside from additional candy, kiddie stuff, and rituals of watching TV, I became a childhood obesity statistic myself. I also became the victim of the culinary black-and-white monster known as the children's menu. Until years ago, when I got serious about exercise and eating right, I never had once touched a vegetable, save for some in my school or home.

Definitions and Problems

What defines a kids’ menu? Well, it is what kids label “fun,” with their hot dogs, grilled cheese, cheeseburgers, and chicken fries abound. The entrée is nothing more than a pup in a white flour bun, a ground beef patty, chicken breast ground and shaped into common members of the animal kingdom or some celestial shape, or cheesy noodles.

The side dishes consist of pommes frites – the familiar shoestring French fries one associates with fast food or the waffle-lovers’ pommes gaufrette - or whatever appeals to them. Dessert may consist of ice cream, cake, cookies, or heck-knows-what. That’s what the ideal kids’ menu looks like to me, and it varies from restaurant from restaurant, upscale or otherwise.

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

Perceptions of the kiddie restaurant fare - including parents, nutritionists, and food snobs' - 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. The chefs of many restaurants birthed the trend known as “kid-adult fusion” cuisine.

That movement prompted restaurants to introduce new menu items to children based (or loosely based) on adult menu items. Walt Disney World is no exception – besides the usual chicken strips, hot dogs, and whatever seems baneful typically served, Epcot offers their own kids’ menus, especially down in World Showcase, where ethnic dishes which vary by pavilion tempt children to try something new!

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

Lessons Learned from France

Another attribute to the culinary, grown-up kids’ menu trend to another trend might be the school menus in France. 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 foreign on a typical American kids’ menu.

So why can’t they be similar? Well, 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 America be more like France in terms of most restaurants' kids' menus?

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

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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    • talfonso profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      Well, blame a combo of my family relenting me to go from "healthy" Filipino to Western cuisine and the media - as I mentioned on my Hub, the former was too unappealing. With a combo of that and lack of exercise, there I was - a fat person. I'm currently on a weight loss program.

      Thank you so much for reading this! I hope you would break the habit!

    • CCahill profile image


      6 years ago from England

      Nice article, i agree that you gotta start them early.

      It was my grandma's fault, once she introduced me to junk food to spoil me, there was no turning back, i remember nagging my mom the point of nearly going insane for a McCdonalds frequently.

      but then i saw my neice chomping her way through celery sticks the other day and thoroughly enjoying them, i was like how!? but then she knows no different, that's what she has been brought up on and that to her is normal, it will stand her in good stead, whereas for us... it'll take a lot of hard work and mental determination to break a habit and so that is why i agree completely that the kids menu is a dangerous thing.

      Good messages deserved to be shared on Facebook so, Voted up and Shared


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