movenpick-colourful cups for kidsI have absolutely had it with “Kids Menus”.

Why is it that restaurants put so much effort into preparing flavoursome meals for adults – fusing cuisines, experimenting with ingredients, prepping a plate that is good enough to photograph, and then think that we will be prepared to spend good money on something they have grabbed out of the freezer, thrown into the deep fryer then slapped on a plate?

Children’s menus seem to be the same world-over: mac and cheese, chicken nuggets with chips, fish fingers with chips, pizza margarita, spaghetti bolognese, hamburger and chips. Yes, these six items with practically no nutritional value, that we could make ourselves with very little effort in the comfort of our own home at about a quarter of the price seem to have some bizarre monopoly on those pieces of A3 paper with mazes and colouring-in that get plopped in front of our kids with a handful of coloured pencils. If we are really lucky, ice-cream gets thrown in too. And to drink? Soda, of course.

But it’s not just about health. We can cook healthy meals for our children at home. When we go out as couples do we ponder the calories of every dish? Some might, but I can tell you, they don’t enjoy a gourmet dinner nearly as much as I do. No, when we pay for someone else to cook for us, we want it to taste good, and for many, we want it to be something we can’t cook with ease at home. Why should it be any different for children?

movenpick-carrots

“Family restaurants” seem to put the emphasis on decor and entertainment, not the food, which is what they are actually supposed to be selling us. It’s all upside down. Adult restaurants generally theme the decor to be a stylish background, but those aiming for the children are garishly coloured, full of toys, distractions, loud music, waiters on rollerskates – how is this supposed to encourage our child to understand what dining out is all about? Especially when all the literature regarding feeding children seems to indicate that limiting distraction is the key to good eating.

Until our youngest child was three, we refused to take them out to restaurants with us because of what they would do to our dining experience. Now, we don’t take them out because when we get to the restaurant we are faced with choices that are trash, or expensive food they refuse to eat. I got to the stage where I would pack them a vegemite sandwich, and then go out and order them a banana smoothie while we ate two or three courses.

movenpick-construction lunchThe best meals my children have received while dining out have been in venues with no designated kids menu. Great restaurants will have service staff who will often speak with the chef and come up with something special – I still remember the lunch at La bastide du clos, where the chef whipped up a buttery pasta with tiny florets of broccoli and a tender juicy slab of medium-cooked eye fillet, sliced thinly on top. And at La Falconniere, where the tagliatelle primavera prepared specially off the bat was filled with such beautiful tomatoes it tasted like summer. That’s two places in a year and a half who knew how to cook for children. Both of them overseas.

What the hell is that about? And why do we, as consumers, allow it to continue?

For someone like me, who views dining as one of my favourite hobbies, “kids menus” as they stand send a very bad message to my children. I would prefer my kids to see “dining out” as an experience where they will get to eat “fancy food”, and “special stuff” – otherwise they will always want to treat themselves with junk. It’s hard enough weaning them off McDonalds as it is.

Australian Masterchef has just taken their TV show one step further, and are now showing Junior Masterchef – there is a stack of 10 – 13 year old kids cooking food I would be proud of. My dad thinks it’s slave labour. I think it’s wonderful. It shows me that kids are interested in food far past the standard adult understanding. We should not assume that because they are little they don’t understand taste. As we age, our tastebuds and sense of smell gradually die off, so children are actually super tasters. This is why they like what many adults consider to be bland food. But if they are more sensitive to flavours – why not arouse them and inspire them as we do with ourselves? In most countries, people start a Chef’s Apprenticeship at age 15. It is our duty as parents to make sure they understand food well before this time, otherwise we might be starving them of a career opportunity.

movenpick-macaroni cheeseSo what has started this rant? The Mövenpick UAE have just launched a children’s menu that I absolutely approve of. And this got me to thinking – WHY are they the only ones doing this? It’s not rocket science.

  1. Take ingredients you know kids love
  2. Mix them with ingredients you know parents want to feed them
  3. Make them pretty and yummy.

I tried many of the dishes, and would happily eat them myself, especially the chicken urumaki (recipe here). I also love the way they have used toys to liven up a plate – I showed them to Lion (8yo boy) and he was drawn to a dish with a spinach pattie. I asked their PR manager if they expected the toys to be returned with the empty plate. “Well… we hope so, but we are expecting to lose a few.” I’d be happy if they put the price up by 5 dirhams and I could reward Lion with the little construction worker for trying something new (or at least letting mummy and daddy enjoy a meal without being child-whipped in front of everybody)

So let’s start a movement. Can we do to restaurants what Jamie Oliver has done to school cafeterias? Food Revolution has come part of the way – who’s going to take up the mantle now?

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movenpick-carrot crisps and turkey wrapsThe Power Bites menu is available at many Mövenpick hotels and resorts across the Middle East. There is even a current promotion. Mövenpick’s four venues in Dubai are all participating (Bur Dubai, Deira, JBR and Ibn Buttuta Gate) and includes items such as Fruit sushi, “paint your own” carrots, ninja power lunch (bento box), curry caterpillar, chicken breast with carrot crisps, construction breakfast (above), mac and cheese with a difference and some great desserts too.

Why don’t you comment below if you can name some other restaurants that really know how to treat the kids.

15 thoughts on “Kids’ Menus – what a load of….”

  1. I put their sly cost cutting tactics down to greed and disrespect, as if children aren’t ‘customers’ at all. You read my mind actually – at a well known (African) restaurant at MOE yesterday, I had exactly the same thought. They even admitted that the chicken nuggets were cooked from frozen, so our little 2 ½ year old set her chops into some of my calamari with cream cheese and tomato, and my husband’s chicken (properly cooked!) She would have eaten her own portion of fish croquettes (beautifully prepared from scratch) but for the slight smattering of curry (nose wrinklingly too “spicy” for her). So many places are guilty, and usually the ones where food is otherwise reasonably freshly cooked. Fish goujons are about the safest option, but still inspire parental guilt about deep fried foods!!

  2. Sarah I am with you all the way. My kids have almost never had items from the kids menu. When they were younger we would order either half portions or a full portion which we would share between them. It has always astounded me as to why kids have to be served inferior quality food at restaurants. Why not just the same thing as adults, just in a smaller kids portion?

  3. I have ordered from the kids menu only a handful of times. Never again. Now Maryam is either fed at home or eats from what we have ordered! So with you on this movement!!!

  4. yes, yes, yes- I am sick and tired of the drab spag bol and the way it gets splattered all over my 4 an 2 year old daughter's tops.I have also started to feed them BEFORE we go out to eat and then keep them happy with a juice and some bits from our own food. One place I do like the kids menu is Wagamama- they have tis nice apple salad and grilled chicken with noodles- my girls love it!

  5. I love it! I think we don't eat out much because I can make my kids pasta with butter for about $0.25 or pay %5.95. I work at a private club and create all the menus and advertising for the restaurant. Next season, I'll talk to the chef about better meal offerings for kids.

  6. I share the same sentiments. We need to be more concerned on what our kids eat. Of course, what we are paying good money for should be taken into account too…Moms, dads, parents and guardians should take time out to have time for these stuff. Thanks for your tips. Great post!

  7. You hit the nail on the head…and why do we expect children to eat processed junk food until say the magical age of 12 and then transform into discerning diners who know about healthy eating. It just won't happen. Raymond Blanc launched his chain of brasseries in the UK with a children friendly policy but no kids menu – you can order anything from the main menu as a child's portion. I see they have bent to pressure (and yes the children's menu has mac and cheese!) and now have something special for babies, under 8s and 'jeune blanc' portions http://www.brasserieblanc.com/kids/blanc-kids.php Here in the UAE, why don't more brunches have a teenagers price – it's pretty tough to fork out top whack as a family for a 12 year old.Bravo to the Movenpick – the food looks exceptionally appetising. Might have to borrow a couple of pre-teens for lunch!

  8. I could not agree more with you!!! What is put out as a kids menu in most restaurants is a pathetic excuse of a meal that just comes in small portions with nothing good in it! Not even the taste!! I have noticed that kids hardly eat anything of their meals when dining out!!Why don't restaurants invest a little more time and energy in creating creative, tasty meals for kids? They are afterall customers, and very important ones as happy kids= happy parents= return visits!!I love Master Chef Australia's initiative with Junior Chef, Thumbs up… Thoroughly enjoyed your post 🙂

  9. Sarah, this is an issue we face every time we go out!I've never been to a restaurant which had good and/or appealing food to children!It's really sad especially that my son really loves dining out and in the end we end up either ordering from the adults menu or just order rice with yogurt! My son is picky with food but I feel if there was something appealing, he will eventually try it but the case is that restaurants don't even try.

  10. I completely agree with you on this. We will definitely try the Movenpick offering. Our daughter eats what we eat most of the time but the Movenpick sounds fun and instilling joy in variety is what it's all about I always think.

  11. I agree with you on the kids menu , my son is a big foodie and he always orders what we order , he hardly looks at the kids menu , saying it's rubbish , gotta check out the Movenpick menu . Also Thank you for visiting my blog Sarah and for the kind comments 🙂 . Cheers……

  12. maybe it's just me but i don't understand why some people dive straight for the kids menu in the first place. Decline the kids menu – it's that simple! A simple scan of the menu and you should be able to find a main/starter that can be adapted for small appetites i.e less spice, less salt, etc. We found it simpler to order for ourselves, an extra starter or 2 and take some our food and make a little meal for the kids that way. As they got older we would order more sides, starters… do 3 mains between 2 adults and 2 kids… etc and managed to avoid the dreaded chicken nugget dilemma. I used to limit the kids nuggets to McDonalds (shoot me – i believe in moderation and no severe exclusion) and even though their nuggets are no better or worse than restaurant ones – we had to specifically go to McDonalds to get them and not a restaurant. Seemed to work for us. However, some restaurants do make their chicken tenders and if they were on the menu – i would opt for them. Oh and by the way: i find in Dubai so difficult to swap the soda for water! I'll even pay extra…no maam!

  13. I haven't ever thought of it this way as my elder one Big Z loves to eat. For Li'l Z it's always a problem and it's always a problem for most of my friends who have kids… I really like your thought about – '"kids menus" as they stand send a very bad message to my children. I would prefer my kids to see "dining out" as an experience where they will get to eat "fancy food", and "special stuff" – otherwise they will always want to treat themselves with junk. It's hard enough weaning them off McDonalds as it is.'It's so true that when we as adults are dining out, the ambiance, the taste of the food, how it is served everything matters. So why not for the children? That's why at home I'm trying to make cooking a 'fun' thing for the kids – but it's always a struggle outside.Wonderful reading.

Some other suggestions or opinion to add? Please comment