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Stop Ordering Off The Kids' Menu

By Sierra Black |

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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About Sierra Black

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Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Stop Ordering Off The Kids' Menu

  1. Laure68 says:

    OK, I know he’s trying to be overly dramatic, but when an article starts with the subject saying “children’s menus are the death of civilization”, I can’t take him very seriously.

  2. e says:

    For me it’s more about portion control. My toddler eats enough that I don’t want to share, but not enough to order him a full adult portion. We try to order from sides and piece together his meal that way whenever possible, but sometimes you just have to order off the kids’ menu!

  3. [...] we explored the question of whether or not restaurant kids’ menus mark the death of civilization. Most of us would like our kids to be adventurous rather than picky eaters. How early can we start [...]

  4. Poppy says:

    my kids adore sushi too!

  5. Seonaid says:

    Maybe not the “death of civilization”, but I’m glad somebody is calling “them” on it. I despise the kids menu, and I was tempted to snarl at the wait-staff who first twigged my children to its existence. (I didn’t. They’ve got a hard enough job without me taking out my hangups on them.) Now my older kids can read, so I can’t hide it any longer, but the toddler still gets ‘real’ food. Bwa ha ha.

  6. Voice of Reason says:

    How often do people eat out that a children’s menu could be disruptive to their children’s eating habits?! Obviously, a lot more than I do!

    You can always cook them whatever you want at home, you know!

  7. PlumbLucky says:

    We don’t try “new” foods at restaurants – but for us, “new” food generally involves something completely new and off the wall to us (i.e. Introducing husby and tot to samosas, biryani, and curry chicken – I am not doing that in a restaurant) Our tot, through the grace of whatever you want to believe, is more likely to eat fish, artichokes, lentils, and feta cheese than he is to scream for macaroni and cheese. We don’t usually order off the kids’ meal menu, its usually ridiculously expensive for what you get (hello Applebees – $5 for Kraft Mac N’ Cheese? Get real!!!), bland, and boring. I do usually order extra pickles though, otherwise I do not get one :-) .

  8. Marj says:

    It seems like they are mostly offered at chain restaurants or diner type places. If you are so sophisticated that you hate children’s menus you probably aren’t dining at such bourgeois establishments. That said, I prefer to order the kids stuff off the sides menu, but then, they currently only have 3 teeth between them.

  9. Robyn says:

    I’m not so into trying completely new things at restaurants. That gets expensive, and sometimes loud. Like “e” the kid’s menu is more about portion control. My son will get a child’s fish and chips, for example, or, from the Indian place, a little platter of appetizer-sized items.

  10. mbaker says:

    Our 3 year old son has a very adventurous palette and I partially credit the avoidance of the kids menu for that. Once he was ready for table food we started ordering vegetable soup with most of the broth drained off for him at restaurants and proceeded from there. The veggies were soft enough for him to eat safely and had lots of flavor. Now we just give him some of our food whether it’s shrimp cocktail or crawfish etouffe from a Cajun restaurant (his request last night) or masamum curry at the Thai restaurant. He’s now less picky than me. We do draw the line at raw fish until he’s older though.

  11. Laure68 says:

    I think people whine about these kinds of things because they like to complain. For goodness sakes, if you don’t want to order from the kids’ menu, then don’t. By the time your kids can read, hopefully they have learned to like different things. As far as tempting them once they can read, they will be tempted by these types of food all the time. (Especially when they start school.)

    When we have eaten at places that have kids’ menus, they usually come with some sort of coloring sheet and crayons, and I find it very thoughtful of the restaurant to provide these kinds of things.

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