I think the choices on the kids’ menu say a lot about a restaurant, don’t you? Offer the 12-and-unders only chicken fingers, pizza, noodles, fries and more fries, and it seems like the restaurant doesn’t care what it’s serving kids. Brag about the one healthy kids’ option of plain grilled chicken served with steamed broccoli, and it comes off as a lame attempt to appease parents and nutrition experts. After all, has your kid ever ordered plain grilled chicken and broccoli? Mine hasn’t. But if a restaurant lets the kids choose smaller versions of dishes from the adult menu and includes plenty of side choices, it shows that chefs are well aware of the challenges of feeding young children.
No doubt planning a kids’ menu is tricky. It’s hard to land on dishes that will make kids, parents, and chefs happy. I know first-hand because a lot of brainstorming, nutrition analysis, and recipe testing went into the new Parents-branded kids’ menu at Bimini Road, one of the most popular restaurants at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The eight-item menu debuted last week at this family vacation hotspot in the Caribbean—and the initial feedback has been positively delicious. "The most popular dish on the kids' menu so far is the pasta with sweet peas in marinara sauce, adding grilled shrimp or grilled chicken,” says Arvin Humes, an Executive Sous Chef at Atlantis. "Parents have told us that they’re happy to find nutritious food options on the children’s menu.”
I’m not surprised that the pasta is the biggest hit so far. We made it customizable so kids can choose a house-made tomato or cheese sauce. (Did you know that many restaurants don’t make their own sauces and dressing?) The kids can also decide whether or not they’d like grilled chicken or shrimp on top, and gluten-free pasta is an option too. The dish comes with peas mixed in; you’d have to ask for no peas rather than the reverse—a subtle way to get kids to eat more veggies.
My favorite item on the menu is The Tackle Box, 10 finger foods placed on a tray with fish-shaped cut-outs. Perfect for grazers, the meal contains fruits, veggies, from-scratch Ranch dipping sauce, and protein-rich foods, like turkey cubes and edamame. Families have also been ordering it as a starter to share. Steal the idea and put something like this on the table at your house before dinner is ready. After all, kids are most likely to eat veggies when they’re hungry.
Since the Parents staff is a big fan of restaurants that offer kid-size versions of their adult menu items, the Bimini Road kids’ menu also has scaled-down versions of three traditional Bahamian faves. Jerk chicken and conch are among the foods that little ones might try for the first time.
Finally, the items not on the kids’ menu are just as important as what’s offered. I’m thrilled that the new menu doesn’t feature chicken fingers, fries, or soda. Of course, you can allow your children to have these items once in a while. But you probably don’t want your kids to have them at every meal out. Since they’re not on the menu, you can simply say, “Sorry, it doesn’t look like they have that,” and give your child a choice of something else instead. In essence, the menu lets you off the hook for saying “no” to soda or fried foods without a pout or a “C’mon mom!” or the persistent begging that eventually wears you down because you just want to eat in peace.
My only regret: I wish this dream kids’ menu were right around the corner. But if you’re thinking about a trip to Atlantis anyway, the resort put together a pretty sweet deal for Parents readers. From now until June 30, 2016, you get up to 20 percent off for stays until September 1, plus other exclusive perks; you can book here.