When my family goes out to dinner, I (as most parents do) pick up the children’s menu to figure out what my kids can eat at a reduced price. Obviously since kids are smaller, they don’t eat as much so its a nice thing for a restaurant to provide a lower cost option for kids to eat. But I’m going to tell you a secret. I loathe the children’s menu. In fact, 99% of the time as I’m reading it, it fills me with a visceral anger that vibrates through my body from the tip of my head down to the toes.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: Chicken nuggets (breaded, fried), macaroni and cheese (gluten, processed cheese), hot dog (nitrates), hamburger (hormones) and pizza (see above mac and cheese). These meals usually include chocolate milk (sugar), apple juice (sugar) or a soda drink (more sugar).
To assuage our guilt over this highly processed, sugar meal we are about to serve out kids, the restaurants tend to magnanimously offer you the option of fruit for your side. Which while being healthy, eventually just converts in your system into more sugar. So essentially even you choose fruit instead of the ice cream most kid’s meals include, you are still just putting more sugar into their already over loaded system.
My fury stems from this. Just because they are children, why do we assume they are going to want to eat junk? Obviously children’s tastes vary greatly from ours. Slate Magazine just did article on how companies do taste tests with kids of all ages and their findings showed that their little brains do in fact process texture and taste differently then we do.
However, this does not mean that children are incapable of enjoying, good, semi-healthy food when eating outside the house. Given my druthers, here is what I would like to see on a children’s menu:
Baked or grilled chicken nuggets. Not breaded. Just naked. Fish. Kids eat fish. My children adore fish. If something needs to be breaded on the menu, let’s bread some fish. Get some Omega 3s into their bodies. Or again, the options of grilled or baked also works. Pizza with VEGETABLES on it. We assume they won’t try the veggies. We assume they will pick them off. But maybe, just maybe, if those veggies just show up on the pizza, some children will eat them and (GASP!) like them. Pasta primavera. So you still get your pasta, maybe sprinkle a little cheese and again, put some veggies in.
And finally, instead of fruit, how about offering some string beans, or broccoli or an array of veggies? They can be sauteed with a little bit of butter and salt, pepper and garlic. And for a drink, how about water? Why must the children’s menu always include sugary drinks? If we just get rid of the drink option, or better yet, make it an up charge, parents might be more inclined to just order water. You see I’m not changing the children’s menu much at all. But I’m modifying it ever so slightly so that the opportunity to add in some healthier options exists.
“But that’s all my kid eats!” I hear many of you lamenting. Indeed, the ubiquitous children’s menu is all that so many children eat. My children included love mac and cheese, hot dogs and nuggets. But my children also love salmon, shrimp, green beans, artichokes, avocados, quinoa, stir fries, sweet potato and black bean chili, and a myriad of other foods that “grown ups” eat. I didn’t bribe them to eat it, I just served it. Have you ever thought about why all your kid eats is nuggets and hot dogs and pizza? Assuming you aren’t eating out in a restaurant every day, they are eating that at home, as well as out of the house. Yes, your kids may freak out if you serve them “adult” foods, but they may also find a new item of food to eat. I never thought my daughter would eat artichoke until the day I watched her strip leaf after leaf, devouring the meat on it.
It’s time to stop assuming that kids just “won’t” eat it. They won’t eat the foods we want them to because we aren’t serving it to them. It’s too easy to just give them the nuggets and the fruit. We know they won’t complain. But the inherent problem is that we are setting them up for a life of craving sweet, processed, heavy foods. With all the health issues manifesting themselves, childhood is the exact time to try to teach good eating, not just assume they will figure it out later on.
I have two children and neither of them would ever win a prize for being adventurous eaters. I struggle every day to get them to eat things that I deem healthy. It would be so simple just to throw the frozen nuggets in the toaster or pop out to the local pizza place. But I am committed to the fight for their future and for their health. I will continue to offer veggies at home and ask for them in a restaurant. I will continue to seek other options on the menu such as an appetizer that looks more healthy instead of the kids meal. I’m not an ogre, I’m not against ice cream. I’m happy to have my kids eat it, assuming of course they have eaten some broccoli before hand.
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About the Author: Courtney Abrams is a Health Coach and Founder of Roslyn Wellness. Trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she helps clients work within the realities of their day to day lives to find ways to make small and manageable changes to their health that can maintained over time. Her clients include people trying to lose weight, beat sugar, increase their energy, cook simple healthful food and reduce stress to name a few. She also shares a passion for food policy and educating people about the foods they are eating and the governmental role behind much of it. You can learn more about Courtney and Roslyn Wellness at http://RoslynWellness.com.