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!