Kids’ Menus Suck

I don’t know how, but I raised a gastrophile. Travel and eating out reinforce an ugly truth: menus for kids suck rocks.

I joke that I gave birth to a stomach with legs, but it really isn’t a joke. Torran chose eating over breathing.

We’re about to spend a week with Disney, starting with the Disney Cruise Line ship the Dream. Thankfully, as part of their stellar customer service, they allow kids to eat off the adult menu.

Orlando Universal Lagasse menus eating out
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop behind the scenes. Torran’s love of food sometimes gets him invited into the kitchen of restaurants.

Most of the time, when we take our little bottomless pit out for dinner, we predict the kids’ menu before we enter the restaurant: pizza, chicken fingers, sliders, and some pasta variant. At a seafood themed restaurant, they may offer one type of fish or, typically, deep fried shrimp.

I doubt Torran would have been shown behind the scenes at restaurants like Emeril Lagasse’s Tchoup Chop or Beaumont Kitchen (of Oliver & Bonacini) if all he ate was pizza and nuggets.

I refuse to believe that children won’t eat anything but junk food. Maybe it’s my Polish “feed everyone” blood.

Jamie Oliver did a great job demonstrating that exposure changes eating habits. His campaign to overhaul British school dinners met its biggest roadblock in the assumption that only the middle and upper class can eat well.

We went to Bonefish Grill our first night in Florida. The restaurant promises to “ignite your tastebuds.” Guess what they offered for smaller patrons?

Yup, the same old carp… I mean crap. (You see what I did there? hahaha – OK, I’m not funny. Moving on.) At least they offered a child sized grilled salmon.

Ask our kid what his fave food is and he’ll say wasabi. When I point out to him that that’s a condiment, he modifies his answer to sushi.

I don’t know what restaurateurs expect. A sudden change of eating habits and food preferences at the age of 9, or 12, or whatever random age they choose for their menus? Not likely.

A greater disappointment was the fajita restaurant at SeaWorld, Orlando. Kids can eat fajitas with ease. Instead, Torran had a choice of deep fried or reheated garbage with a side of over salted fries, and an applesauce for dessert. UGH. Seriously, the fries tasted like they had been cooked in a salt brine.

Eating out, or dining in theme parks, is not a daily occurrence, I know. The pervasiveness of these bland, predictable kids’ menus is a symptom of a larger problem.

We have an entire generation raised on inactivity and unhealthy food. Is it that hard to create interesting kids menus?

Don’t get me wrong. Torran and I love pizza as much as the next person. Children who eat nothing but junk food have a harder time varying their diet as they get older. What some people see as “pickiness” may be an ingrained behavioural ridigity: I don’t know what that new food is, so I’m not willing to try it.

Last year, we came across a family with two sons, one Torran’s age. Both boys were “picky eaters,” although the parents weren’t. The boy Torran’s age also had autism.

Torran’s interest in food on the adult menus amazed these parents. Their own children ate little more than pizza and chicken nuggets. Ironically, the child with autism also ate salmon when prepared a particular way. Children with ASD may have food aversion or resistance.

We are not perfect parents. In this small area of life, with persistence and a smidge of luck, Bruce and I found a heap of success.

I ate all my fave foods during pregnancy, including spicy food and well prepared sushi. I also threw all caution to the wind and continued to do so when breast feeding. We introduced Torran to the same foods we ate by blending everything up.

One time, he had organically prepared mashed lamb I discovered in the baby aisle at Shoppers Drug Mart. He spit it out. How could a child with dual Brit heritage not like lamb?!

I tried again a few months later. He loved it. Obviously, he wasn’t ready for that texture at the time.

We adhere to the rule of “try a mouthful” in our house. I draw the line when it comes to crickets, though. The boys ate flavoured, dehydrated bugs at the CNE. I passed. They loved it. I will always take a pass.

One can see Torran’s food rigidity when he eats. Even though he eats everything on his plate, he picks out all of one item at a time, even when mixed together. I encourage (and/or bribe) him to eat in a pattern. For example: meat, veg, pasta, pasta. That only works when I coach him bite for bite.

My dear friend Michele taught me that she intentionally changed up the colours of plates and cups for her child with ASD. That way, her son wouldn’t become accustomed to only a particular item.

What are your food related challenges at home and when eating out? Did you overcome a particular problem, and how did you do it? Where did you find great kids menus?

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