The other day a little note on one of the many e-newsletters I get caught my eye. The headline read "Even Top Chefs Have Picky Kids". As a menu consultant, the final resolution of a kids menu has always been the hardest part of my job. I've always believed kids will, and do, want to eat what they see adults eating. Somehow, somewhere we (restaurateurs and Chefs) got way off track and have relegated the tots to a choice of fried chicken fingers, mac & cheese, burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. We tempt them with nothing but fatty and fried foods and we wonder why we have an obesity problem with kids. In a brief review of some of the top restaurants in the Twin Cities I didn't find one menu with fish that wasn't fried, vegetables that weren't carrot sticks or any food for that matter that resembled anything on the dinner menu for adults.
The article I mentioned above was an interview with cooking show "Top Chef" Tom Colicchio who is taking part in a panel this week at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival about the challenges parents face in trying to improve what their children eat. In the interview Chef Colicchio was asked if restaurants should be doing more to promote healthful eating. His answer made sense. "If food is well sourced and well prepared, I don't think the word healthy needs to be brought into it." If more restaurants and Chefs spent time and effort into creating kids menus with the same attention to detail and taste as they do the dinner menu...more kids would know no the difference between good food and bad food.
Fast food restaurants will always be the purveyors of fries, burgers, chicken nuggets etc. But even they have started to offer fresh fruit instead of fries. Why do so many casual and fine dining restaurateurs then feel the need to create kids menus with the very same food. Many have answered my question by saying "that's what kids want to eat". When in reality, its what parents order for the kids because these items are usually priced right and they are the only items parents see on the kids menu. Its a real Catch 22. I would only hope when these kids are at home they have better choices...at least some of the time.
It's time all restaurants got their act together. If they are going to take the time to create a cute kids menu, put some real food on it. Offer the kids a chance to eat mini versions of things their parents are eating. Offer these items at the same price points as the chicken fingers or boxed mac & cheese. Give the kids real food. Many prominent people in the hospitality industry are demanding better lunch programs in our schools. Let's look at our own houses first. Even in our messed up economy, kids probably eat nearly as many meals in restaurants as they do in school cafeterias.