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Stop Ordering Off The Kids' Menu

When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a memorable humorous essay on how to take a baby to a restaurant. The advice was simple and compelling: Don’t.

It’s advice I’ve happily (and sometimes unhappily) ignored for six years, as I’ve dragged my kids through restaurants ranging from high-end downtown places with star chefs to our local pizza joint. Few of these places have kids’ menus.

Which means we could probably enjoy a family meal at I Trulli in New York. The owner, Nicola Marzovilla, explains to the New York Times this week why he believes children’s menus are the death of civilization.

Marzovilla correctly points out that the family meal is an important part of a child’s development. Your parents’ table is where you learn your manners, acquire your taste in food, eat the stuff that nourishes you day to day and connect with your family.

Children’s menus are the opposite: they’re about sidetracking kids to something fast, cheap and easy while the parents enjoy their meal. The message, to kids and parents, is that children can’t enjoy complex, novel flavors.

On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more. I have fearlessly fed my kids everything I like to eat since they first began grabbing it off my plate. My kids love sushi more than pizza, and for her birthday dinner my 6 year old requested Indian food.

However. Many kids don’t enjoy trying new things, and are prone to throwing tiresome fits when forced to. Maybe the morally righteous thing to do from a cultural or nutritional perspective is to press through the tantrums and help your child develop a more eclectic palate. But it’s probably not in anyone’s best interest to choose a restaurant as the battleground for that fight.

Moreover, even adventurous little eaters can get overwhelmed by a restaurant environment and want something safe and familiar. Most of the restaurants we go to are ethnic restaurants that don’t offer a dedicated children’s menu. But the ones we go back to over and over are family-owned places where the owners come out to the table and spoil the girls with little sweet breads and fruit plates while mom and dad enjoy their curry.

What I’d love to see is more restaurants following the example of Full Moon, in Cambridge, Mass. They offer healthy, delicious, interesting food for kids and adults, accompanied by a large children’s play area and a lovely wine list.

How do you handle restaurant menus with your kids? Do you order from the kiddie menu, or challenge them to try new things?

Photo: paula8555

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