Kid's Menus: Is This The Best We Can Do?

August 26, 2011   35 Comments

Last week, I went to a local restaurant that has fresh, lovely food. My children were handed a kid's menu before I could stop the inevitable.

Kid's Menus: Where's the Fruit and Veg?

My menu at Judie's in Amherst, MA had a combination of soups, salads, and sandwiches with many fruits and vegetables. I can get a pretty healthy meal here as long as I avoid their yummy popovers.

But, what about my kids? I don't remember the EXACT menu, but any parent can tell you what was on it:

  • hamburger
  • chicken fingers
  • pizza
  • macaroni and cheese (or pasta with sauce)

and soda, milk, or juice. You almost can always add a sundae for $1 more.

My children ordered a hamburger and chicken fingers, while I had a fresh salad. There were ZERO fruits or vegetables on their plates - not even a slice of lettuce for the burger.

Ummmm, is this McDonald's? - hey at least at McD's they give you a pickle. I shoulda just taken them there, right? So, I asked the waitress for some fruit for my kids and she brought over some grapes - which they devoured.

I am naming "Judie's" because I am going to send them this article as a complaint. But (to be fair), they are not the only locally owned restaurant to create a compelling adult menu and a "fast food" kid's menu.

Do you think that is all our children will eat? Of course, I could just tell my kids that we are not ordering from the kid's menu and make them choose from the adult menu.

And, if Judie's didn't make the kid's menu into this cute drawing project - it would be much easier for me to do that.

My kids assume that they will get to order from the above four food groups when we eat out because EVERY TIME we go to a restaurant - this "food" is what they are offered.

What to do? Well, I think fast food has its place - just not at a restaurant meal. Eat fast food at fast food places and eat restaurant food at restaurants!

  1. Let your local place know that you don't like the kid's menu.
  2. Before you leave the house, tell your children that they are going to choose something from the adult menu. Ask the restaurant if they will make a child's portion.
  3. Always serve fruit and veggies on their plates at home.

Even when my son will not touch carrots, I put them on his plate. I always put the vegetables on their plates and SURPRISE! sometimes they eat them. My daughter is a much more adventurous eater and will try everything I put in front of her.

We are just limiting our children's palates when we offer them the same bland, meaty, cheesy, fried food. Frankly, I feel bad when I am eating something healthy and my kids are scarfing down high fat, high sodium, and very sweet food.

Don't get me started on the public school lunches (nachos, pizza, chicken nuggets, hamburgers....).

Please share your thoughts and strategies on kid's menus.

Want to read about snacks?
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My children all learned from a very early age that we do not do the kids menu because what is on it is not healthy. I have four so they will usually pair up and split a full size meal.

on August 26, 2011

As a former restaurant Chef, I can tell you that the blame for that menu does not lay in its entirety on the the restaurant's shoulders, but must also include the family. Restaurants are not charities; and they sell what people will buy. I used to be the Exec Chef of a high end restaurant and Jazz club that began serving Sunday brunch. We had really wonderful and unique items on the menu for breakfast (Dutch Babies with Lemon Syrup or Banana Pecan Butter for example) and offered smaller portions of anything for the children but did not have a "children's menu". Eventually, we caved and created a menu for children because of the high volume of complaints that there was nothing for kids to eat. That scenario has been pretty typical for every restaurant I've ever worked at.

I think it's great that you are alerting the restaurant to your desires and wishes; and the more people who do that, the more likely better offerings will be found. But to lodge it as a complaint is, to be honest, a bit unfair to a restaurant that is otherwise lovely (in your stated opinion). Just ask them not to give you a children's menu while you are being seated and the hostess should tell the waitstaff. If they forget, then you do have a valid right to complain to the management about your meal time being made more difficult with the struggle to turn your children's attention away from those meals to something better for them.

I am truly not trying to be divisive, but want you to see the other side. Almost any restaurant worth its chops will give you a side plate of anything on the menu for the kids if you don't want the kids menu.

on August 26, 2011

Hey Lisa -

Judie's has always given my kids a side of some sort of fresh fruit or vegetable (usually grapes), so perhaps they were having a bad day/night? I like that when my kids order a grilled cheese there, I can specify whole wheat bread and they use real cheddar cheese. Yahoo!

on August 26, 2011

I agree with Laurie. It is a bit unfair to complain to this one restaurant when (almost) every restaurant has a similar children's menu. I would bet if they switched the menu, they would get complaints about NOT having the food you mention. It is hard to make everyone happy.

Our family frequents one particular restaurant which has included healthy options on the children's menu, but also has the staples you mention. I would be interested to see what meal is the most popular. We all have to make choices when we eat, it's never too early to teach our kids to make good, healthy choices. They will follow OUR lead. (hopefully)

on August 26, 2011

I also think it's far more important to start looking at what we put in our kids mouths starting in utero. With all the studies out now about how amniotic fluid and breast milk is "flavored" with the mother's diet and how influential it is on their child's preferences, there is a revolution waiting to happen. How else do you explain Japanese children loving fish eyeballs as a tasty snack? :) It's what they have had since literally before they were born. It's really up to the parents. I wish I knew as much about this when my first daughter was born as I do now. I think I would have a MUCH less picky eater than I currently do.

on August 26, 2011

I'm with the others. Don't pick on Judie's. This seems like the common kid's menu everywhere. I love the idea of not even asking for a kid's menu when you get seated. Don't even put the options out there for the kids. I grew up going to dinner with my parents all over the area that you live in (and also when we traveled). We *never* ordered off of a kid's menu.

on August 26, 2011

I have to say, this is a huge gripe of mine. I understand the business perspective of a restaurant having a kids' menu but I wish we could find a middle ground somewhere. My kids are small (6 & 3) and unlikely to finish adult-sized portions which makes me hesitant to order them (or even one to split). So, I routinely ask servers what they can do for kids and I get frustrated by blank stares. I appreciate Laurie's effort above in offering kid-sized portions of regular menu items - it's something I've never yet encountered. I recognize that asking for certain items to be made smaller (cuts of meat, etc, that don't lend to it) is outrageous - but I've asked before for a mini-portion of risotto or stew and have been baffled when I was refused. Again, my wish would be for a middle ground there somewhere because, while ordering off the adult menu is a more sensible option, it doesn't always make sense from a cost/portion size perspective.

on August 26, 2011


I hate to say it but when many people hear that breastmilk influences food preferences in babies and toddlers I expect a resistance in breastfeeding. New moms are given so much advise and expectation already. Breastfeeding moms already have 'rules' to follow; to add eating healthy as another rule then it will just be another reason to not do it. A lot of people struggle with eating healthy and a lot of people don't even bother with it, including new moms who are overwhelmed with taking care of a newborn.

on August 26, 2011

If there were yummy choices on the kids menu I would order them for me. The adult portion is more than I want. Would be nice to just have a smaller portioned adult menu that could double as a kids menu.

on August 26, 2011

I think this came about because kids wanted to eat at McDonalds and parents wanted to eat at a restaurant so restaurant owners to decided to have a kids menu that would encourage more parents to come to their restaurant. Well, once one restaurant does it then they will all do it. I have been to several chain restaurants that have the standard kids items as well as 1 or 2 healthy options, usually grilled chicken with rice and brocolli or applesauce. One place had salad on the kids menu!

Restaurant owners ultimately want to make money. If the kids menu is selling then they are not going to get rid of it. You should ask if they can add 1 or 2 healthy options. Even McDonalds has healthy options.

on August 26, 2011

I am very fortunate that neither of my sons took after me. (I was a classic picky eater as a child-but grew into being a great lover of healthy food) They always enjoyed adult foods and very rarely selected kids meals at restaurants. They seemed to want to order by price, the more it cost the more they wanted to eat it! :/

on August 26, 2011

It's true that most people wouldn't order the healthier food if it were on the menu, but I hope they will still offer and allow the few to do so that would. It's hard to ask for fruit instead of fries, but when my daughter ate from a kids menu, we did it. I also looked for side dishes and appetizers to supplement, or replace, her meal. It became what we did. Mexican places will have fresh avocado slices, black beans and rice. Many places have fruit or carrot sticks. Hummus and pita and/or veggies has caught on, too. Asian restaurants will bring steamed brown rice and edamame. Seafood places have a shrimp cocktail. Even if they offer a special menu for the kids, many will let you order something small from the adult menu instead or in addition.

on August 26, 2011

Laurie, I agree with you about starting in utero and breast feeding. I changed my diet to include a variety of healthy foods when I was pregnant and ate a variety of foods during the 14 months of breast feeding. My daughter (age 6)is healthy, make healthy choices oftern and loves foods most kids will not touch.

Also, I'm finding more and more resturants offering healthy choices for kids and I live in the good 'ole sout.

on August 26, 2011

A restaurant local to me used to have real chicken strips on the children's menu, which was great, but the last time we were there they had switched to formed chicken nuggets (yuk). When we complained they said that they had received so many complaints about the strips - kids wanted mcnugget-like nuggets, not real chicken - that they switched. I think they just can't win. But next time we'll be ordering off the adult menu.

on August 26, 2011

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. While traveling and having to eat out in the USA, it is so hard to find a restaurant that has a decent children's menu. At my son's school he is so fortunate to have a cook that prepares a balanced meal for the kids from 3 years old to 10 years old. Each day they get a main course, salad, fruit, bread and milk or water. Since he has had this as an example for the last 7 years he is used to it and it is normal. So when I go to a Mexican restaurant and they hand the kids a menu that has cheese quesadilla and nachos with cheese on it my blood boils. I asked the waitress why the plates do not have rice and beans? then I asked her if she serves this to her kids at home. she said no. This is what the typical American parents want. We were in Taos NM. So Typical American parents we have to start saying NO to the bad choices that we are offered. We want to see some color on the children's plates! Fruit, salad! Why cant they just take a regular dish and make it smaller for kids? So now let's make it a point of saying no instead of sitting there boiling mad and putting up with horrible nutritional choices!

on August 26, 2011

Another option is to do the adult meal and when they bring it, box up 3/4 of it for tomorrow's meal. It's not any different for most adults, who when ordering in restaurants get way too much food. Why can't we do the same thing for the kids? (Having said that, I'm one who always goes for the items on the kids menu) but honestly never thought about having an option. I think I'll go the adult route next time and take the rest home!

on August 26, 2011

One of the best article you did!!!! I agree w/ you!!! simple things can be change and WE need to be the change!!! starting small maybe but doing it consistently

3hip hip hooray's for you today!!!!posting it in ALL my social networkings settings!! need to spread it!!!

on August 26, 2011

@sallyj... I understand what you are saying, but I don't think that educating people is the same as giving them rules to follow. Women will still do what they want to do, regardless. If you know and you don't care, it's no big deal - you simply won't do it. It's not even necessarily eating healthy but experiencing a wide variety of flavors.

on August 26, 2011

I know this is a bit off topic, but I thought the restaurants just wanted to make money too. Recently I took my two teenage daughters to a restaurant at lunch. The sixteen year old wanted a hamburger off the kids menu because it is a smaller serving (she is so tiny that if she hadn't been wearing makeup they would have thought she was a ten year old.) They refused to let her order off the kids menu, so we asked for an extra plate and I split my meal with her (win-win/ we saved money). Why would they limit the crap food menu to only small children? That seems so wrong. Just my two cents.

on August 26, 2011

Gosh we got alot of buzz in 10 hours! Judie's here. Glad to hear you like the adult food, and just want to point out a few items off the kids menu that you may have missed. I am going to print the entire kids menu so others can see the choices we offer, and want to add that our price of $2.75 does limit the choices somewhat, but we are always willing to be flexible. We have to be with all the dietary restrictions and allergies out there. So, here is the kids menu, and please, let us know the next time you're in, and we'll get your Kids that salad.

BLT & Corn Chips (multigrain or white bread)

Cheddar Cheese and Fruit Plate (bananas & orange slices)

Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich & Corn Chips (multigrain or white bread)

Fried Chicken Fingers (real chicken, battered here)

Fettucine with Tomato Sauce or Butter

Kids Burger & Corn Chips

on August 26, 2011

I had a similar problem at Noah's Bagels today. According to the cashier, they've removed the fresh fruit option as one of the side dishes that comes with a sandwich because it's too expensive. Now I can only get coleslaw, potato salad or chips. None of these options compare to fresh fruit. I'd pay more money to "upgrade" to healthy fruit. I, too, filed a complaint at

on August 26, 2011

I agree Laurie! I ate very healthy while I was pregnant as while nursing and I have NO issues with my kids eating healthy! Its all they know...they eat what mom and dad eat period.

Lisa, while we do not eat out often (I am a homeschooling mom and meal preparation and cooking is apart of our curriculum), I have found that the 3 or 4 times a year when we do eat out at a restaurant I never have a problem saying ...drop the fries from the Burger and give me broccoli, asparagus etc and I've never had an establishment tell me no! Worse case scenario, I order an extra side salad and start them off with that so that when the chicken fingers, grilled cheese or whatever comes, they've enjoyed a salad and are less likely to eat much of it. I never, ever give control of what my kids eat. Its my responsibility to ensure that they are not eating crap! I am even known for bringing fresh fruit with me! Leave the fries in the kitchen and they will eat this juicy peach instead. Seriously, its much easier for me to pull a plumb out of my bag than it is for me to watch my kids scarf down an entire plate of beige/brown food. If we don't teach them early about healthy eating and making the best choices, when do they learn?? With a history of heart disease and diabetes in my family, I had no option but to start before they were born.

on August 26, 2011

When my children (3)were young and we ate out. I let them order what they wanted from the "Adult" menu and we served it family style...worked out great! They always made great choices....because that's what they ate at home and it made them feel special = )

on August 26, 2011

I don't think she is picking on Judies, just siting an example. I ate very healthy while pregnant with both of my children (13 years apart) and there is no rhyme or reason as to why they like what they like. They do not like what I ate while pregnant nor hate what I didnt eat. and they both change their minds often as well and they are 17 and 4 years old. I still offer them everything I eat that they won't eat, and always give vegetable or fruit plate that we all share. i let the 4 year old know that she needs 3 choices at least and usually does it anyway. and if i've made an entree she doesn't like, she has to eat 8 bites and then she will fill herself up on the veggies or fruit. raw is the key to both my kids eating veggies. anyway. just thought i'd chime in.

on August 26, 2011

Try having a healthy eater that is a 4 yr old vegetarian...not only are restaurants hard, but fast food places, on those days that you really do need to eat on the run, are a joke. I've asked mcdonalds to make a grilled cheese (ie: order a cheeseburger with no meat or sauce) with some success (just be sure to check the sandwhich before you leave the drive thru), Chipolte is too spicy for him, they used to serve mac n cheese at burger king, but took it off the menu. It's a huge challenge.

on August 26, 2011

Pleasee make an article about school food >.< so I can send it to my school's principle and see if he'll change anything...

on August 26, 2011

Thank you so much for this article. I'm going to make copies and take or send it to any restaurant I visit that has an less healthy kids menu. I'll let you know if I get any responses.

on August 26, 2011

A comment in response to the off topic comments about breastfeeding: I rarely eat processed foods and do a lot of home cooking which includes a lot of fruits and vegetables. I ate the same way while pregnant. I ate the same way for the 16 months that I breastfed my child. Other than Larabars, my child does not like the foods I ate while pregnant, nursing or that I prepare.

on August 27, 2011

I had the same expierence at Disney World. The kids options for the meal plan were so unhealthy it was a shame!

on August 27, 2011

Really interesting topic :-) My two takeaways:

* Ask to not be given the kids menu

* Eat at ethnic restaurants which don't have kids menus (sushi anyone?)

Recently we ate at a very nice restaurant which didn't hand out a printed kids menu. My 5 year old decided to have the steamed mussels (he happens to love them). As we were ordering, our server said "Oh, by the way we have a kids menu...", my son ended up eating chicken fingers and fries instead ;-(

on August 28, 2011

Right! When we were in Lake Tahoe my son ordered the steamed clams and mussels! He dipped french bread in it and he loved it. He tries Matzo ball soup and Caesar salad and all sorts of entrees when the restaurant doesn't have a Kids menu. So get there first and say, "dont bring the kids menu!"

on August 28, 2011

I have to say that you might think that school lunches are not healthy but they have to meet very high state standards. (in Texas)! They have to have whole wheat, fat free/low fat, skim milk, they can not offer any junk foods. They have removed all vending machines except ones that offer water or fruit. They must take at least one fruit and a milk with every meal. So even though it might not always look healthy even the pizza is made with whole wheat, low sodium sauce and low fat cheese.

on August 29, 2011

Parents need to stop "dumbing down" the food they serve their kids. If, as parents we educate ourselves about food, restaurants will be able to eliminate the disgusting, unhealthy items on some kids menus.

on August 31, 2011

Totally agreed. The stuff on the kids menu make me cringe. I almost always have them order stuff of the adult menu. It is just not right. Places like "Red Robin" has grilled chicken on their kids menu which I love and it is really, really good.

on September 15, 2011

Thanks for posting this. Parents order from the kid's menu, not realizing that there are alternatives. I talked about some of these alternatives in my article here… .

on December 7, 2011

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