Kids’ Menus: Changing the Chicken Tender Standard
I asked for a young parent’s perspective on this topic, and this is the discourse she sent me. She is right on.
When did high-fat, high-carbohydrate, low-nutrient meals become the only acceptable choices for kids’ dinners? The typical kids’ menu in restaurants consists of chicken tenders, hamburgers, corn dogs, mac and cheese, pizza—well, you get the idea. Looking at 13 chain restaurants (not including any drive-thru restaurants), I calculated that the average kid’s chicken tender and fries meal contains 584 calories and 31 grams of fat. I know it is not a restaurant’s responsibility to make sure children are getting balanced diets, but it is their responsibility, as a business, to benefit each community in which they operate. Kids’ menu items are presented on a fun coloring page that kids can just point to, so of course that is what they want to order. We can try to control, steer and bribe, but it should not be so hard.
The purpose of the kids’ menu is to make it simpler for parents and children to order. But if I want my child to have fruit, vegetables or unprocessed food, it throws the idea of simplicity out the window and makes the kids’ menu my enemy instead of my ally. There are many ways restaurants can improve kids’ menus. A simple change is to offer smaller portions of the less healthy foods and add fruit AND vegetable options as sides.
Restaurants will never make these types of changes without consumer demand, so let them know how you feel about their kids’ menus. Until these changes come about, here are some of the solutions I have come up with for ordering a healthier meal for my child when I go out to eat:
No. 1 Order my child’s meal from the appetizer and side item sections (example: a side salad and cup of gumbo).
No. 2 Share a meal with my child (less calories for me!).
No. 3 Let my child order a “grown-up” meal and put the leftovers in a box (lunch for Daddy).
I don’t know about you, but I like the reprieve of going out for dinner occasionally. What I don’t like is fussing over my child’s dinner options. Restaurants want my business, and I want to protect my child from developing eating habits that can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It is time for parents and restaurants to have higher standards for the food choices on kids’ menus.
Special thanks to dietetic intern Leah Mayers Porche.
Debbie Melvin, M.S., C.F.C.S., is an extension agent for the LSU AgCenter. She specializes in nutrition and knows just about everything there is to know about everyday living.