Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just Say No to the Kid's Menu

By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food

It happens every time.  You sit down with your family at a restaurant and the server gives your child a children's menu -- full of games, puzzles, and...yes...junk food!

As unhealthy as many restaurants are, the least healthy food is reserved for the children.  Hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, soda, and loads of sweets.  Our growing children, who need a greater percentage of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to thrive, are served a lower concentration of these valuable chemicals than we, the parents, are!

Food on Children's Menus is High in Fat

The food on children's menus averages almost 50% fat.  Ironically, fast food children's menus have a slightly lower percentage of fat than sit down restaurants.  But both are loaded with fat.

Some fats are fine, and even healthy for children.  Olive oil, nuts, and seeds are healthy fats.  The fat in children's menus, however, comes mostly from saturated fats (meats, butterfat) or oil from deep frying (which can cause cancer by producing dangerous acrylamides and other oxidation products).

Food on Children's Menus is Repetitive

No matter how exotic and exciting a restaurant is, the children's menu has the same tired set of options.  Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and macaroni & cheese.

If you wanted to teach your child her multiplication tables, you wouldn't have her study the "two times" equations after she had already learned them.  If you want to teach your child to like a wide variety of healthy foods, you shouldn't keep teaching her the "hamburger" lesson over and over again.  She isn't learning a thing about the taste of new foods.  And giving your child the same foods over and over again can make her into a picky eater.

Food on Children's Menus is Overly Sweet

Children's menus usually come with soda or dessert.  What calories aren't taken up by fat are taken up by sugar!

Food on Children's Menus Have Very Little Fruits, Vegetables, or Other Healthy Foods

Your child can easily eat half her daily calories in one kid's meal without eating a single fruit, vegetable, or other healthy food.   Restaurant owners know that most children haven't learned to like fruits and vegetables, so they omit them from the kid's menu.

Alternatives to the Children's Menu

1. Tell your child that kid's menus are for babies.  Every child wants to be a big kid.  When the server hands your child a kid's menu, tell her that these menus are for babies and toddlers who haven't learned how to eat grown-up food yet.  She can enjoy the puzzles and the crayons, but can happily choose her food from the adult menu.

2. Split a meal with your child.  If the meals are too big, you and your child can decide on a meal that you both like and then split it.  Ask the server for a plate for your child.

3. Eat family style.  Order a few dishes and then allow everyone to take what they want from the dishes.  Your server can bring plates for all of you. 

4. Take food home.  Let your child order a meal off the grown-up menu, and then take the remainder home.  She can enjoy another serving a few days later, which will help her become even more familiar with the dish.

Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on amazon.com.

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  1. Another benefit of your alternative suggestions is that you don't waste money. I think some adults choose kids' meals because they can be sure the kids will actually eat the food and the money won't be wasted. The more expensive the restaurant, the higher the price of picky eaters. But by splitting a dish or ordering family style, you don't risk waste. Good ideas!

  2. Good ideas. Even though Miss P is only two, we've never ordered her anything from the kids menu when we've eaten out. I usually ask for a smaller portion of one of the mains or I choose a starter and ask them to bring it out with the rest of the main course. There's no reason why their choice should be limited to burgers and chicken nuggets!

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  6. Today it's a common matter in every restaurant that serve children menu. Most of the food of those menus are unhygienic which is really harmful for our kids. So it is our duty to save our kids from those unhealthy foods. Always try to serve healthy and hygienic foods to our kids.

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