Bravo to a kids' menu that features real food in kid-sized portions! 

By Sally Kuzemchak
August 16, 2016

I am so sick of typical kids' menus. Chicken nuggets. Hot dogs. Pizza. Macaroni and cheese. Soda. Fruit punch. Can we give kids a little bit of credit for liking foods beyond this narrow list? Is it too much to ask that a children's menu have some nutritious and even moderately interesting options on it? And why-oh-why is it such a foreign concept that the children's menu simply be actual restaurant food, just in child-sized portions?

Here's some news that gives me hope. Just last week, Panera Bread released its "Kids Meal Promise", which states its philosophy and commitment when it comes to the chain's kids' menu:

  • No artificial flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners, and no synthetic food dyes
  • No cartoon characters, toys, or other marketing gimmicks
  • Lots of options, including soups, sandwiches, and pasta
  • Nutritious sides (no fries or onion rings)
  • Water as the default beverages (with the option of adding milk or 100% juice)

And back in May, Parents announced that it had teamed up with Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island in the Bahamas to revamp the kids' menu at the resort's Bimini Road restaurant. Chicken fingers and fries were nixed and smaller portions of restaurant favorites like baked fish and jerk chicken were added. The Parents-branded menu also includes the brilliant "Tackle Box", a fun tray with little portions of foods like cheese, edamame, and fruit (perfect to munch on while waiting for entrees to arrive).

I hope this becomes a trend that catches on. It would make our jobs a lot easier as parents if we could easily say "yes!" to just about anything on a kids' menu, instead of feeling like we have to negotiate, or simply abandon our hope for a healthy meal for our kids when we eat out.

Whenever I write about this topic, I invariably hear from perturbed parents who accuse me of being the fun police—and who say that restaurant meals are a time to relax the rules and let kids have something special. To some extent, I get it. My kids occasionally get soda or another sweet drink when we're out (especially when we're on vacation). And I don't think there's anything wrong or bad about a hot dog or bowl of mac-n-cheese.

But why do we feel the need to always dumb-down food for kids? How will kids learn how to explore new foods and be adventurous eaters if we keep them inside a bubble of chicken tenders and pizza? And the reality is, most American families eat out so frequently, it's no longer a "special occasion" worthy of a splurge.

How do YOU feel about the kids' menu when you eat out?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.


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