If you have kids, you know the struggle of feeding them. Some kids will eat anything, but most kids go through a picky phase at least once or twice through their childhood. It’s not uncommon to have a kid that will only eat one food. Even older kids are picky or go through phases where they just don’t eat much.
Unfortunately, this makes dining out with kids difficult at best, and it can make a restaurant owner crazy trying to come up with foods kids will eat. Add this to the fact that most parents want to feed their kids healthier options than standard kid fare (processed chicken nuggets or boxed mac n cheese) and it can be downright impossible to come up with a menu that works.
With a little bit of thought and planning, you can make a menu that will work for most families, and make them feel good about choosing to bring their kids to your restaurant. Since even many chain restaurants are adding healthy options to their kids’ menus, it only makes sense to follow suit. While it may seem challenging, especially since creating a healthy menu is tough in general, it can be done.
Create Healthy Versions of Old Favorites. Instead of going to your local warehouse store and buying giant bags of frozen chicken nuggets and fries, think about how you can make these foods better. Chicken breasts are low in fat and high in protein, and easy to slice and grill. Instead of hot dogs, try either veggie dogs or turkey hot dogs. Whole wheat pasta can be swapped in a pinch for most kids, and if you want to make mac n cheese, you can try adding veggies like broccoli, or hiding them with foods like pureed squash or carrots. This lightens up the dish, which pleases parents, but most kids won’t know the difference. You can make french fries from healthier veggies like sweet potatoes or parsnips. Some soft whole wheat bread (try white wheat bread) is perfect for sandwiches.
Whole wheat English muffins topped with some pasta sauce and cheese can be thrown under the broiler for mini pizzas, and fruit can be blended with yogurt (and maybe even some veggies) for a milkshake like drink that kids will love.
Keep it Simple. Many restaurants fail at kids meals because they try to feed kids a full meal the way adults eat, when in reality, most small kids don’t eat full meals at meal time. Instead, ditch that kind of thinking, and create a menu filled with a few meals, but also add some a la carte options.
When you’re trying to decide what kinds of foods and dishes to include on a kids menu, think for a minute about what types of foods kids like to eat. Most kids like foods they can dip, which is why foods like chicken nuggets and ketchup are common on kids menus. Foods to try instead include fruit like sliced apples with yogurt, or veggie sticks with hummus. Applesauce, fruit salad, and string cheese could be a meal for a child, and maybe a few nuts can make a nutritious and filling meal for a toddler. Peanut butter and jelly is a simple, fairly nutritious menu option that can be prepared in minutes.
Make Sure the Kids Menu Matches Your Restaurant. It can be a big turnoff for parents if the menu includes all kinds of thoughtfully prepared foods for adults while the kids menu feels like an afterthought. It can send the impression that you’re not a family friendly place, even if it’s not true. If you’re restaurants claim to fame is local foods, go that route for the kids menu as well.
Make it Fun. Sometimes kids need a little bit of fun to partake in everyday things like adults do, and this includes eating. Create a colorful kids menu, and have some crayons on hand to keep kids busy. Colorful plastic cups with silly straws can make kids forget that they are drinking milk instead of soda, arranging veggie sticks on a plate to form a smiley face can entice kids to eat them more than if they are just thrown about haphazardly. You might find that kids will eat more and be better behaved if they are having fun, and as a bonus, they are less likely to bother other diners.
Look Over Your Regular Menu. First, take a look at what kinds of foods you already have that can be turned into kid foods. If you have chicken breasts, they’re easy to slice and grill for chicken strips. You probably have fruit that you can use for a small fruit plate, and even foods like cooked beans can quickly be pureed into a healthy dip.
It also helps when parents know that kids can order a smaller version of an adult meal; not all kids are picky, but most don’t have the appetite for a full plate of food. You might find that parents that encourage healthy eating skip kids menus entirely.
You Can’t Please Everyone. The most important thing to remember when creating a menu is that you simply can’t please everyone that comes through your door. You will run into kids that will only eat pizza or plain pasta or something else that you don’t have. Just like you can’t please the palate of every single adult that comes through the door, you won’t be able to make every kid happy. The only thing you can do is offer as many choices as seems reasonable, and let parents know that you’ll help them find something that works. Most parents know the difficulty of trying to feed kids, and won’t put it all on you; just the act of trying to make things work goes a long way. Even if you don’t cater to families with kids, a couple that is treated well with their kids is much more likely to come back for a date night or other special occasion.
Still need help? Consider joining a healthy eating program, such as the Kids Live Well Program, created by the National Restaurant Association.
No matter what kind of restaurant you run, you’re bound to have a few kids in here and there. Instead of trying to pass off a boring, standard kid’s menu full of unhealthy options, try to come up with some healthy choices. It’s not as difficult as you think, and can go a long way in pleasing parents.
Does your restaurant have a kids’ menu? If so, tell us about it!