The kids menu. It’s enough to make you crazy. It’s typically a grim assortment of chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese–regardless of the restaurant’s cuisine. Italian restaurant? Burgers. Mexican? Mac and cheese. It’s disappointing that as a culture, we expect so little of our kids.
Don’t get me wrong: My second grader still orders from the kids’ menu sometimes. We don’t eat out much, so I’m okay with those foods occasionally. But I also want to raise children who aren’t afraid to try new foods and are comfortable well outside the chicken-finger-comfort-zone.
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If that’s your hope too, here are five strategies that might help.
How to Avoid the Kids Menu
Ask for all regular menus. Once your server hands your child a colorful menu full of cartoon characters eating cheeseburgers and drinking fruit punch, it can be hard to say no. As you’re being seated, ask your server for all regular menus. If your child usually enjoys the puzzles and activities on the children’s menu, bring along a small activity book and crayons.
Frame it as a “big kid” choice. Communicate to your child that picking from the regular menu means she’s growing up and doing more big kid things. This tactic worked brilliantly with my older child. I explained to him that as you get older, your tastes change and you prefer more complicated foods and flavors. It’s something he latched onto and now wears as a badge of honor.
Make it an adventure. A couple of years ago, I talked with my kids about how we were going to try lots of different cuisines in the year ahead. Together we brainstormed ones we’d already had–Italian, Mexican, Chinese–and ones we could try–like Japanese and French. Now my older son keeps a running list in his head of what we’ve had and what we still need to try. Of course, it’s also important to emphasize that when you try a cuisine, you should actually eat that cuisine (not the chicken fingers!).
Order dishes to share. Asian restaurants are ideal for this, because the table can share several dishes. Or find an entree to share with your child and ask if it can be portioned on two plates (in my experience, many restaurants are happy do this). Restaurant portions are typically too large for one person anyway. Make sure your child gets to choose one of the dishes you order for the table.
Consider buffets. This is a perfect chance to encourage your child to try new things without the commitment of a full entree. For instance, Indian cuisine is something we’ve begun to explore as a family (my husband loves it, I’m still lukewarm). A local Indian restaurant has a weekend buffet we plan to take our kids to so we can all try bites of many different kinds of dishes.
And remember: You may think your children will only be happy eating from the kids menu, but they just might surprise you. Mine have on many occasions! (Read: What An Order of Greasy Onion Rings Taught Me About Feeding Kids)
How do YOU handle the kids menu when your family eats out?