Walk into most restaurants and the kids menu is predictable. You have all of the usual suspects: chicken fingers, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese and mini burgers. Usually, it’s impossible to spot something healthy, unless you count the occasional applesauce that gets slapped on the side.
But I don’t fight it. Now that we have kids, we don’t go out to eat that often and, when we do, I want to be able to enjoy it. So most nights out, I just let them order what they want. It’s easier that way.
But I wouldn’t think of serving the items that are on most kids menus to my kids at home.
Still, how bad can it really be?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 97 percent of the top 50 restaurant chain kids meals did not meet expert nutrition standards.
But fear not. There are things you can do to make dining out with kids a little easier, healthier and cheaper, too.
1. Healthy Munchies
It may be unreasonable to think your kids will eat an actual salad, but there are often plenty of veggies included in your meals that they will eat. Pick out the carrots, peppers, cucumbers and nuts from your pre-dinner salad and give them to your kids to munch on while they wait for their meal.
2. Share Your Food
Nine times out of 10, when I’m dining out, I can’t finish my meal. Why not skip the kids menu and share your meal with the kids? No more kids meal and no more stinky leftovers.
3. Order À La Carte
There’s no reason you have to order a full meal. You can choose from the side item menu instead. Order a side of grilled chicken and a side of veggies, and use those rolls on the table to make little sandwiches.
4. Go Halfsies
A lot of restaurants will let you order a half portion. You just need to ask.
5. Stick With Water
Don’t add to the calories (or cost) with a soda. Instead, opt for good old fashioned H2O or milk.
If more parents choose healthier options for their kiddos, more restaurants could change their offerings, and some already have. Bon Appétit says more and more chefs are starting to invest in young diners, using real ingredients to make mini-me portions. Richmond, Virginia-based chef Joe Sparatta told the magazine that the first step is to give kids real food. “Allowing kids to eat like regular people is a good step to getting them to eat healthier and think about these things in a different way. So we serve them something a little different that won’t freak them out,” he said.
Real, high-quality food and no kid freak-outs sounds like a win-win for both parents and kids.