The Problem With The Kids’ Menu

Goodness Gracious Living Problem Kids Menu

When my children were young, I loved when we arrived at a restaurant and we were handed the kids’ menu; a colorful feast for the eye, complete with tic-tac-toe boards, coloring pictures and a set of their very own crayons.  Back then, I didn’t think much about the kids’ menu, only that it was a good distraction for them while I tried to have some adult conversation and attempted to finish a meal in my own seat without interruptions.  Recently, I have come to the realization that kids’ menus (the majority of them) are undermining our ability to teach our children to make healthy food choices – not with the fun activities, but with the meal offerings.

If you eat out, you may have noticed this phenomenon:  You are seated and handed a menu with many choices; fish, chicken, beef, vegetables, salads, sandwiches, and soups.  In some restaurants, there will be a separate menu for those with food allergies, for vegans and vegetarians, and for dieters (usually referred to as the “skinny” or “waist watcher” menu).  We as adults are offered an abundance of choices from which we can select a meal that will support our efforts to honor what our body needs, and offer us choices that appeal to our cravings.  But children are given no such choice.  In most cases, a kids’ menu consists of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, pizza, a hot dog or a hamburger, and all with a side of fries.  Here lies the problem:  If we want our children to learn to choose foods that will fuel their bodies, we need to give them food choices that will help them do so in order for them to continue to self-regulate their eating.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have let my kids order off of the children’s menu.

Unfortunately, this trend of offering a children’s menu chock full of highly processed foods with minimal opportunities to choose whole, nutrient-dense foods has made it’s way out of the restaurant and into the home kitchens.  It’s less expensive for the establishments to serve “kid” foods, rather than allowing little people to order from the big people options, and most kid foods do not come with the option for fruits and vegetables on the side, as many adult dishes do.  This exacerbates the idea that food eaten in a restaurant should always be “indulgent,” “special,” or a “treat.”  Food is food.  Food from a restaurant should hold no higher status than food served at home.  How do we teach our children not to assign labels to food if restaurants don’t offer our kids options across the continuum from “work” food (those that are nutrient-dense and help our bodies work, ie vitamins, protein) to “play” foods (those that taste delicious, but don’t do much in the way of helping our bodies work, ie added sugar, saturated fat).

Have no fear, you have the power to make a difference.

Serve a variety of foods at home.

Cooking can be less expensive than the boxed or frozen version of the same dish, and you can experiment with all kinds of foods – not just the “kid” variety.  When you prepare meals yourself, you have the option to offer chicken nuggets sometimes, but also grilled chicken, stews and soups, mac and cheese, and stir-fry.  This will expose your kids to foods they may encounter away from home.

Refuse the kids’ menu.

When you are out at a restaurant with your children, refuse the kids’ menu.  Bring a coloring book along to keep them busy and then have your child to pick a meal off of the regular menu.  Ask the manager if you can order a half-portion size for your child.  Call ahead if you are more comfortable, and dine at the restaurant that allows your child to eat like a person… a growing person.

Ensure lots of “work” foods at home.

Of course, there will be times when you encounter the need to serve your kids fast foods, frozen foods, or from typical children’s menus.  But if you are usually feeding them nutrient-dense foods on a regular basis, then having a meal that is less than stellar in the nutrition department once in a while won’t matter as much.  Alternatively, if you are serving your kids from the kids’ menu when you are out to eat and when you dine at home, your children may be missing out on the skill of choosing healthy foods and on the nutrients essential for growth and brain function.  Give them the option of choosing a steamed vegetable or a garden salad, in addition to french fries and tater tots.

Teach them by example.

Teach them what all foods look like, smell like and taste like.  Let them regulate their hunger and satiety by eating until they are full and not until their plates are clean.  Teach them how to cook.  Teach by example.


You have the power and influence to rid the world of kids’ menus.  Let’s take a stand together.  If you need guidance with meal ideas, email me or leave me a comment and I’ll help you find a recipe.  If you need additional help, connect with me!




Have you downloaded your FREE copy of my new e-book, “The Inner Girl Power Challenge” yet?  Have fun and feel empowered to ditch dieting, eat fearlessly, and make peace with the skin you are in.  Read it all at once or do one challenge at a time.  Your pace is the pace!

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12 thoughts on “The Problem With The Kids’ Menu

  1. I think some children are picky eaters always… no matter how healthy the parents are. However, I think all children have a better chance of adopting healthy eating habits as adults if they see and taste and are exposed to healthy food. And parents can get healthy food into meals in a sneaky way, if the kids won’t eat anything green:) But I really think your point about the kids menu is a good one. I imagine that some restaurants will start differentiating themselves by having healthier kids menus!

    • I agree with you, but picky eaters can choose pasta off of the adult menu, and while searching for it, they may come across something else that they are willing to try. If they only get to choose pasta (be it spaghetti or macaroni and cheese), then it will be that much more difficult to convince them to try rice… with a side of chicken :-)

  2. I have felt this way for many years!! My kids will often order from the “regular” menu. The only thing positive about the kid’s menu are the prices. It definitely gets more expensive to go out to dinner when my kids are ordering salmon, lobster, linguine with clams, etc! I have found ways around it…ordering a “side” of salmon for one of my daughters (for $10 instead of $18) or just asking for a kid’s portion. If they do order from the kid’s menu, I will almost always order a side of broccoli or some other veggie to balance it out. It really is an issue though…it sends the wrong message to both kids and parents.

  3. We just ate at a restaurant that under “Kid’s Menu” wrote “We’ll give you a plate and you can share with your parents.” Loved it!

  4. I think that you are forgetting that each restaurant is a business and trying to earn a profit — and those menus work for that purpose. If you would like your children to eat something different, you have choices of restaurants, to eat at home or to make a special request (which may cost more, but that’s a choice too and its fair). It is not the restaurant’s responsibility though, to make healthy choices for you or your children.

  5. I raised 15 children – 2 homemade and 13 special needs adopted. If any of the children came into my home a picky eater, I taught them to eat what was served and not complain about it. When we went out to eat, they expected me to choose several things on the child’s menu that they could pick from and they were happy to have it. I agree, it would be easier on parents if the restaurant would offer alternative, healthy choices to the child’s menu. We considered the child’s menu when choosing a restaurant for our family. Let’s face it, the more accommodating the restaurant, the more likely families will frequent it. Parenting isn’t easy! We so much want to make our kids happy, but must be responsible too. We never had an issue with our kids refusing any type of food. Though, if I knew they didn’t like something I tried to plan around it, offering an alternative when possible. There are practical ways to train our children toward healthy eating – no pleading or sneakiness is needed. This is such a tough subject that I’ve been working on an ebook addressing this subject. I’ll let you know when it’s done! Good post, Beth.

  6. This reminded me of when my kids were 5 and my husband ordered french fries – the kids thought they were bananas gone brown because they had never seen french fries before. And to answer your question, we seldom let them order off the kids’ menu when they were little unless it had other than the usual nonsense. We would order them an appetizer or a soup and salad. It is time for improvement in this area for SURE!

  7. I was definitely guilty of the “kid menu” crutch. But at home, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it healthy. It’s not easy, so I always try to have some variety at a meal, so my son can find something he likes, without the message that I made something special for him.

    • Everything in moderation. You cannot go crazy with this stuff — feed your kids as healthy as possible generally but do not become obsessed (we have all seen what happens — those kids go crazy when they are at someone else’s house and in college!) Leave school lunches and restaurants alone — have your kids bring and eat at home! I grew up in a normal house with some fast food and junk food — my mom, like me, worked so we did the best we could. We turned out fine and as adults have less health/weight issues than many of our peers. There are bigger fish to fry!

  8. This is so important to teach! It’s kind of crazy how much emphasis we place on our own heath but then when it comes to our kids they get what is convenient and often times very unhealthy, even when we are at home. I grew up in a home where we were fed exactly what my parents were eating and I am so appreciative of this. We are getting ready for baby number one and I am excited to teach them the concepts of whole food eating!

    • That’s great to hear Paige! Planning ahead through meal planning before food shopping trips is key to feeding kids right. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to feed conveniently once in a while either. If you are eating right most days, a restaurant can give you a break once in a while. Wishing you an easy and safe birth!

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