Guest post: It’s time to banish the children’s menu!

Families eat out together more than ever. But @Working_Mum, who blogs at Adventures of a Working Mum, finds the situation not quite up to snuff when it comes to the food on offer for the kids. Find out what she has to say about it and tell us whether you think the “children’s menu” should be ditched.

Apparently London has been confirmed as the gourmet capital of the world after a record 53 restaurants were awarded Michelin stars in the 2011 guide. Really? Well here’s an idea for you Mr Michelin Inspector: try eating out with a toddler. Go on. I’ll loan you mine if you like.

Take Toddler-Not-So-Tiny-Temper out to eat and you’ll soon find a whole new area of the restaurant scene. Introducing the dreaded ‘Children’s Menu’. Not so fancy now is it? The main menu may be full of ‘seared breast of this’ and ‘tartare of smoked that’ but ask for a children’s menu and the options are somewhat limited. All together now mums: “Fishfingers and chips, sausage and chips, or pasta with tomato sauce”. We all know it – it never changes.

If you’ve seen my blog you’ll know I’ve been ranting about this recently. OK, I’m sure if we were in one of those glorious Michelin-starred havens they’d create whatever hand-picked-truffle-shaving-enhanced delight our child desired, but what about all the nice restaurants, lovely gastropubs and well-known quality food chains that are so keen so foist this junk food onto our little ones?

We, as mums, are being blasted from all sides about our overweight children, the ‘junk food generation’ who don’t know what vegetables are. So how about turning the heat on some of the chefs for a change? Why do they think it’s acceptable to put zero effort into the children’s menu? And zero taste? And zero goodness?

I have started asking for half portions of ‘real food’ for Toddler-Not-So-Tiny-Temper, but you’d be surprised how many places won’t do it. Why on Earth not? It should be easy – half the portion, half the price. It’s not rocket science.

Restaurant owners, chefs, I’m begging you: please ditch these awful children’s menus and just introduce mini-portions. It doesn’t have to be across the whole menu, just a selection of dishes offered in miniature. Happy children, happy mums. And trust me, if mum isn’t happy, then no one’s happy.

There are many local places that have been blacklisted in my house for crimes against children. So come on chefs, bring on the Mini Portion and Michelin, let’s see the launch of a Mini-Michelin guide.

Adventures of a Working Mum

Image: artemisphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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16 Comments

  1. 25 July 2011 / 13:30

    My daughter is rather fond of sausages, beans, egg & chips…it’s our GO TO. But maybe that’s bad?? We don’t go out to eat a ton but is it just us relying on what’s easy & what we know will be eaten? With BLW perhaps restaurants need to move forward with us and offer half-portions of whatever we want. We are the ones paying for it. If WE wanted a half-portion (like is often offered at lunch times), they would do it for us. To be honest, sometimes, I just share my meal with Ella if there’s nothing else reasonable. But maybe if we all said something, it might change. 😉
    PS- Pizza Express and ASK both have really nice offerings for children’s menus with 3 courses even!
    🙂 Karin

  2. 25 July 2011 / 14:04

    Well highlighted Adventures of a working mum. you didn’t even mention my bete noire of chicken nuggets and chips. we end up with 3 normal meals between four and sharing – gets the odd glare though…
    If we want to teach children about good food and ingredients we’ve got to let them eat it when we’re out and about.

  3. 25 July 2011 / 16:23

    I agree with the sentiments! You wouldn’t think that “half portion, half price” would be an issue but it is. Yay for writing this – I hope it goes viral ;-p

  4. 25 July 2011 / 16:59

    I so agree with you! After the recent – and pretty offensive letter that my son is “clinically overweight” measured based on BMI! (see his picture here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sylwiapresleyart/5811597642/in/set-72157626789392655) I stopped allowing him to have school dinners. I cannot believe that the same government regulations are allowing schools to provide kids with sweet desserts (pudding, ice cream etc) and give kids as much as they decide to eat without any restrictions, but it is incapable of changing the methodology of health measurements which was once used by NHS and is proven to be wrong (a friend working for NHS explained to me that they will not change the system as it would point out that the nation is actually not so overweight as previously announced which would then lead to serious backlash in healthy live style). I think there is something seriously wrong and we should have at least the ability to affect our local schools in a fairly democratic way.
    For now, no school dinners and no measurement at school – my son is 5 so he does not understand it, but for an older boy such a letter could cuase serious self-esteem related problems.:(

  5. 25 July 2011 / 17:46

    I both agree and disagree! I have 20 months old twins and I’d love to be able to order a small portion of real food for Twin 1 as he eats anything, but Twin 2 is allergic to dairy and is the pickiest eater in the world so if I want a peaceful and reasonably relaxing meal out then I go for fishfingers/nuggets,chips and peas. I know he’ll eat it – not chuck it on the floor and scream – and I know it won’t make him sick.
    Lately I’ve taken them to places that do homemade versions of the favourites, so he’s eaten cod fishcakes with homemade potato wedges quite happily. That’s a win win, he is happy and I know he’s not eating processed rubbish.
    I think what’s most important is for parents to be given a choice. Not all parents want their kids eating sausage and chips, but then for some parents it’s all their kids are willing to eat and if restaurants remove it from their menus people like me will never be able to eat out!

  6. godfreysmum
    25 July 2011 / 18:38

    Brasserie Blanc have a fabulous children’s menu, one for under 1’s, one for 1-8’s and one for the older and/or more adventurous child (half portions of a large selection of adult’s meals). Something for everyone. Wagamama also do fabulous children’s meals that DS2 adores (and eats with chopsticks).

  7. 25 July 2011 / 19:57

    I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree! We must be given the choice. I would definitely welcome the chance for a small portion. As you said, it surely can’t be that difficult. Perhaps the answer is to have the children’s menu as is for those that want it, but have a simple star system (like they do for vegetarian meals, or those that are gluten free) that says something like, “meals with a * symbol can be ordered as a half portion.” Then everyone is catered for.

  8. 25 July 2011 / 19:58

    That is good to know, Godfreysmum. Just off to Google my nearest Brasserie Blanc!

  9. 25 July 2011 / 20:54

    I’m a chef and mother of soon to be 4 – 3 little girls and a boy due in August. At my pub and restaurant I’ve never had a children’s menu – just smaller portions of what is available for adults or bespoke dishes using the ingredients we have to hand. We specialise in fresh local ingredients and make everything ourselves everyday right down to our own yeast and butter. Being located on a beach we have a fair amount of fish on the menu but also cater for other tastes including those with dietary requirements.
    We are more than happy to do smaller portions of adult dishes and indeed plainer versions -without sauces etc. I’ve always hated the way some restaurants provide lovely meals with fresh ingredients for grown ups and then offer kids rubbish straight from the freezer. General rule of thumb is, if there aren’t butchers sausages or homemade burgers on the adult menu, it’s very unlikely the kitchen has prepped them up freshly that day just for children. They will be frozen and thrown in a deep fat fryer to quickly heat up to order.
    Sadly, we do get people complaining that we aren’t child friendly because we don’t do chicken nuggets. Even though we will offer fresh chicken fried in breadcrumbs or plainly roasted or grilled with some cherry tomatoes as an alternative they are generally quite hostile. Have never had it with European families though – their children seem to eat everything that there parents eat either ordering smaller versions or just asking for an extra plates so they can share with their parents – a great way to taste new things. To be honest, this is lovely to see. I just wish more British families would do it!!
    Sam

  10. 25 July 2011 / 21:50

    What *really* gets me is when you go to an indoor play centre, i.e. somewhere specifically aimed at children, and their kids menu is appalling and unhealthy. Sometimes I think maybe restaurants just don’t get it so perhaps just need to be educated… but a business specifically designed for children? Must try harder.
    Personally I try and just pretend my kids are extremely picky and ask for a sauce-on-the-side version of one of the adult mains for them to share.
    There is a brilliant place in North London called That Place On The Corner – they have a superb children’s menu – gorgeous, appetising, healthy stuff and fresh baby purees.
    Re school dinners, we didn’t have such a thing in canada, nor did we expect to have “pudding” except on special occasions. I know my kids get pudding at nursery, so at home I stick to fruit. M starts school in September and I am *SO* thankful it’s a lunchbox school and no cooked dinners.

  11. 25 July 2011 / 22:17

    I agree. It is awful how most kiddie places serve the most horrid kiddie food ! Why is it that people think and expect children to love junk like sausages, nuggets, pizza etc. Mine don’t.. they prefer REAL food.
    Maybe I am lucky but I have twin toddlers that are not too fussy with their food, which means that normally, I just order a normal portion for them to share. Most restaurants are quite happy to provide an extra plate and some even share them up on two plates in the kitchen.
    The only thing I ever ask for is for chef to skip the salt and sauce on the side (if possible).
    My all time favourite is Mess, next to Saatchi Gallery in the summer, as kids can run around outside when they not eating and food is good value and brilliant. Otherwise Carluccio is pretty good…. but tends to be a bit cramped.

  12. 25 July 2011 / 23:11

    I couldn’t agree more! The choice of food on the childrens menus are dire. I really wish that more places would offer small portions of the main menu too! Have actually got round this with the twins by ordering one main meal then asking a unsuspecting waiter for another plate. Happy twins, happy Mummy.
    If we could just get them to actually CLEAN the highchairs and tables in restaurants properly, eating out might almost be pleasurable!

  13. 26 July 2011 / 11:13

    I totally agree! Having Baby-Led Weaned’ our daughter (nearly 2), although her tastes are much more narrow than when she first started eating, she loves olives, prawns, risotto, most fish and various steamed vegetables. Now, doesn’t that sound like ‘Modern European / Modern British’ cuisine? I can’t bear the fact that most dishes on a kid’s menu come with chips – DD LOVES chips obviously, but is also a big fan of boiled potatoes or even mash. Surely a much healthier option?
    What we tend to do is choose a dish each from the main menu that we know our daughter will like, then order a starter that she’ll like too and ask for everything to come together. We then put a bit of each of our dishes on her plate, along with the starter. But would be gorgeous if she could get a mini-version of what we were eating?
    Thanks for raising this issue.
    And @Sam Wydymus, if we’re ever in your area, we’ll be sure to visit your pub! 🙂

  14. 26 July 2011 / 18:25

    Hate “kidz” menus with a pasison. My eldest eats off the adult menu and although Bog Boy, our youngest, has a very narrow view on culinary delights I opt for things I know he does like or else just offer him bits and pieces off our plates as portion sizes are usually rather large! I was rather sad to see menus in France now having a kidz special….burger and chips/fish fingers and chips/sausage and chips…

  15. 27 July 2011 / 14:30

    Great post. Yes. Why assume that all kids want is the usual unimaginative stuff? Though it would be nice if that was on offer too, because, let’s not be smug here, sometimes it saves the day.

  16. 01 September 2011 / 22:55

    I’ve just logged on here to get the link for someone and noticed all these comments – thank you! Nearly all of you are completely in support, which is great, and thanks also for the wonderful suggestions of places to eat such as ‘That Place on the Corner’, ‘Mess’, ‘Wagamama’ and the rest.
    Sam, your pub sounds FAB! You’ll have had your baby boy by now so hope all went well.
    Thanks again everyone for you comments. Bring on those mini-portions!! x