Thursday, March 8, 2007

Kids and Eating Out

I don't have a food post today. Last night being ballet night, I resorted to a simple supper of hot dogs (locally made) and fresh pineapple. And I did attempt to make something new yesterday to use another cookbook from my cookbook challenge, but it truly was terrible and went straight into the garbage, so I will make another recipe from that book, as I know there are plenty of better recipes to pick from.

But lately I've been reading a lot about kids and dining out. There are restaurants that are being developed specifically for kids to give them a taste of fine dining. There are restaurants that are devoting one night a week to family night, so parents can bring their children without worrying about other diners. There are restaurants that are creating kids menus that re-invent the kid food, giving it a new twist. But my favorite thing that I have read so far on this matter of kids and eating is an editorial in the March issue of Gourmet magazine. It is like Ruth Reichl read my mind, and put the thought to pen and paper. And even though I am guilty of it's very preparation this week, I want to know (as does Ruth Reichl) why is kid food kid food?

Why? Why is it that when we go out to dinner and there is a kids menu the menu has the same things everywhere we go. Chicken nuggets or fingers, hamburgers, hot dogs (maybe a corn dog), mac-n-cheese, spaghetti, pizza, grilled cheese or PB&J. Why are these foods kid food? It's because we tell our kids that this is food they will like. When we first started going out to eat with Abigail, we were dismayed by the kids menu choices, as she's never been a big protein fan. So at first, we began ordering side salads for her, or ordering things for ourselves that she would like, and we'd give her a portion of our meal. Salad and fruit are her favorite foods, but somewhere along the line we started ordering kids menu fare for her, and now that she's older and can read for herself, that's what she looks for. We made her that way! Had we continued ordering our food with her in mind, or ordering soups and salads for her, she's probably be a much more adventurous eater.

If I were to ever open a restaurant, or even just help with a menu, one thing would be certain. There would be no kids menu. The perfect restaurant in my mind would have a note on the menu that says " in lieu of a separate children's menu, our younger patrons are free to order a child-size version of any item on the menu." My daughter would love a grilled chicken salad, or my son would love to have a tiny rack of ribs for his very own. And while we could always order for them off the adult menu, that would get very pricey, very quickly. Especially since their tastes are very different.

In essence, kid food has become kid food because we tell them that's what they want. I'm even guilty of that sometimes. I'll make fish for dinner, and make some chicken for the kids, not even giving them the opportunity to try the fish. Although I know that right now neither of them particularly care for fish, maybe that could change if given enough opportunity. We have the "bite rule" in our house. Abigail has to take two bites of everything on her plate, and Zander has to take one bite. When Zander turns four he will be subject to two bites as well. Abigail doesn't fight this anymore, and it's amazing to watch her eat things she never knew she liked. Zander's fights with us are getting less and less. I still keep their tastes in mind though. Abigail doesn't care for brussels sprouts or shrimp, so those stay off her plate entirely. Zander doesn't like potatoes or hamburgers, so those stay off his plate. Kid food doesn't have to be kid food. Kids can learn to love the same foods we love, it just takes time and patience.


Tammy said...

I agree! My oldest use to want soup or whatever the adult(s) were eating. Of course now, as you mentioned, we've resorted to the kid's menu as it's much more economical and both of my kids can read for themselves now so they know what's being offered. One place my girls and I love is Texas Roadhouse(for some reason I'm thinking you've posted about that and maybe aren't fond of it but maybe I'm remembering wrong). They offer an early bird special of 2 meals for $13.99. So she and I will get that because she can get a salad and small steak and there's plenty of steak so she can bring some home for later. My youngest will get ribs off of the kid's menu and eats every bite. I think they're around $5. A little more than a kid's meal from a fast food but only by a couple of dollars. Anyway, for me it's proven that they like other foods, not just the chicken nuggets and fries. But most places only offer the chicken nuggets and such on their kids menu.
Sorry for the ramble, LOL. I just so know what you mean and agree totally!

Erika said...

Ah yes, I did post about Texas Roadhouse. It was on the suspect list for Kraft Mac-N-Cheese. We will be back there though because they do have other things- like the ribs- on the kids menu, and their loaded sweet potato is the best thing ever.

Bad Home Cook said...

I totally agree with you on the kids and eating out thing. I want them to try adult courses, too...but then I also want them to if they place has cheese quesadillas on a "kids" menu....welll, that's the safest bet.
I'm finding, though, that my ten year old is starting to branch out...stealthily. She'll put up a fight, try something new grudgingly...then decide she has to have some more. So maybe that means there's hope.
I'm gonna send her to France for her junior year abroad. That'll fix her! (and I can come visit often!)

Erika said...

Julie, that's my dilemma too! If I give in to the kid food, I knwo they'll eat it with gusto. The adult food they'll eat, but not so much, and later they'll be asking for a bowl of cereal. There's just no winning is there. If we give them the kid food we're bad parents for giving them crap. If we give them the adult food, we're bad parents for not letting them eat what they want. It's a viscious circle.