Want to avoid the kids menu? Here are five strategies that work for us–try them the next time you eat out with your kids.
The kids menu. It can be a little grim.
It’s typically an assortment of chicken fingers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese–regardless of the restaurant’s cuisine.
Italian restaurant? Hot dogs.
Mexican? Mac and cheese.
I understand that restaurants want to provide at least something that everyone will want.
And 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 try to steer clear of the kids menu as much as we can.
Why? Because I want to raise children who aren’t afraid to try new foods and are comfortable well outside the chicken-fingers-comfort-zone.
If that’s your hope too, here are five strategies that might help:
|You might also like: How to Raise Adventurous Eaters|
How to avoid the kids menu
Strategy 1: 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.
So 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.
Strategy 2: 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.
Strategy 3: 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!).
Strategy 4: 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.
Strategy 5: 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.
Don’t think this will work with your kids?
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)
I find that ethnic restaurants are often preferable because there is no kids menu. My two year old has grown up eating Somali, Japanese and Vietnamese food. She loves rice and noodles and thinks all meats are chicken.
I thought this might be of interest for Columbus based readers.
Bethia–that is great! Thank you so much for sharing that link.
Yes! I cringe almost every time we’re handed a kids menu. When my daughter was younger, she’d just share my husband’s and my dishes. Now that she’s 5, that’s may not be not enough food, and we have another kiddo, too. I’m looking forward to the day when they can share an adult entree (assuming they agree on one), but for now, sometimes we get the kid’s dishes simply because they’re cheaper than an adult meal.
Just came back from all you can eat sushi place – where kids pay their age – so we paid $8 for our two kids combined! And they ate almost as much as we did. Our older son didn’t veer from his veggie rolls, but my younger son sampled everything we ordered.
I’ve never seen this policy anywhere else, but it is a really great way to get a good night out without breaking the bank or getting frustrated because your kids won’t eat.
Yes – all you can eat sushi! Our local favorite used to be free for kids under 6 – alas, now they’re half price. We kind of wonder if we’re to blame; our son can sure pack sushi away like a pro. Onlookers always express surprise and admiration, but when you think about it, sushi is the perfect toddler/preschooler food: it’s pretty, it comes in bite-sized pieces, and it’s soft, salty, and sweet. And what little kid doesn’t love rice?
Michelle (What's Cooking with Kids)
Kid’s menus have always frustrated me – unless they had great coloring activities on them 🙂 It’s as if the restaurant expects that kids aren’t capable of enjoying the same foods that adults do… When our kids were little, we loved going to Asian restaurants because it was expected that everyone shared a variety of dishes – and we all ate the same food. Great post!
Marilyn Wright Yon, MS, RD, LD
Oh, how complicated it seems at times to try to piece together a meal for a toddler from the regular menu (couple sides, share our entree should be easy but sometimes restaurants seem confused when ask for side of this (if not a listed side but is available with x meal or such).