Children's Menus Stunt Healthy Eating

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • Dozens of causes of obesity continue to be explored by health experts and researchers, including:

    • Family genetics
    • In utero environment
    • Lack of physical activity
    • TV/internet/gaming time
    • Fast food accessibility
    • Advertising
    • Trans fats
    • Sugar and HFCS

     

    I had a light bulb moment otherwise known as an Oprah aha moment when I was reading a recent New York Times article that discussed how the owner of a well-received New York restaurant regards requests for a child's menu when customers come to dine.  He typically responds to the request by saying, "I'm sure we can find something on the menu your child will like."  According to the article, what he is really thinking is "children's menus are the death of civilization."  He goes on to explain that "children's menus aim too low - they are a parenting crutch."  He believes that a meal is about nutrition and spending time enjoying food tastes and savoring food and coming together as a family.  He feels a "child's menu option" stands for just the opposite: "making it quick; making it easy; and moving on."  His favorite phrase?  "Try it...no, just try it....No, Just try it!!"  As in, "try the same food your parents are eating - even just a bite.......now try it again."

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    Here's my angle on kid's menus. We assume as parents that children need to be carefully and gradually exposed to food.  To some extent that's true, after all there are certain foods that, due to textures or bite-size aspects, may hold choking hazard to a child.  And certainly in the early months and first year of life, it is appropriate to introduce different food groups carefully, to make sure no allergies or digestive issues exist.  Once over that hump though, this idea of creating child versus adult food categories seems to be getting our kids into serious weight issues.  We are creating food lists for our kids that harbor foods known for their notoriously high fat, sugar, salt calories.  Just look at what we call "child's menu foods."  They include:

    • Mac n cheese
    • Fried chicken pieces
    • French fries
    • Pizza
    • Pasta and sauce
    • Cheese burgers
    • High calorie drinks
    • Hot dogs (on white bread buns)

     

    Why would we decide to feed our kids this garbage?  Well, it seems to me it's what we wanted as kids (or we still want).  Just because these foods hit our plates with occasional frequency as kids, we've decided to make them the primary foods our kids eat - mostly outside the home, but also inside the home as well.  What kind of madness is this?  The restaurateur is quite correct in suggesting that if our sophisticated palates savor certain tastes, why would we not ask our kids to eat those very same foods?  Why have we made them "adult only" foods?  Quite seriously, if your kids are eating certain foods, you should be comforted by the nutritional quality of that food.  If you are not - then why would you choose to introduce the foods as anything other than sometimes foods?  And if the food you are eating is good enough for your health and your palate, why would you not repeatedly introduce it to your kids?

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    These kid menus are in my view a huge contributing factor to the weight issues and finicky eating issues many of our kids have. Mostly because they're not only going on in restaurants - they're typical home fare as well.   I think this restaurant owner was much more astute than he may have realized.  Meals should be family affairs, with participants involved in menu choice and menu preparation, no matter how young.  A 3 year old can help to choose fruits and vegetables, to shred lettuce, to sprinkle herbs on chicken or fish.  And they need to see their parents modeling food behaviors that are healthy.  I for one am not keen on the child's menu concept at all.  Order appetizer size "adult food" for them or share a dish with your child.  That's how you create a "child's portion."  The foods themselves simply do not need age separation.

     

Published On: June 16, 2010