My hubby used to joke that he looked forward to having a child so he could order food for himself off the kids menu. Why? They are loaded with junk at a reduced price.

Here is a typical kids menu:

Pasta with Butter or Marinara Sauce

Grilled Cheese & French Fries

Chicken Fingers & Fries

Macaroni & Cheese

Cheese Pizza

 

Where oh were have the fruits and veggies gone, Oh where or where can they be?

Where, may I ask, are the fruits and vegetables on this menu? Yes, your child will get a little tomato sauce on the pasta and pizza options, but aside from that, kids menus hardly ever include veggies. Occasionally, one will include a fruit cup on the side, but often it’s more of a fruit cocktail from a can than fresh fruit.

On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese. I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.

What I see on this menu is a whole lot of white, carb-filled, starches topped with something that is NOT a fruit or veggie (aside from the marinara sauce). There are also usually no whole grains to be found. While no one can deny that fries are delicious, they are generally fried in unhealthy oils (canola or partially hydrogenated oils) and really should be more of  treat than part of dinner. Ditto for the chicken fingers that probably came from the kitchen’s freezer that are are loaded with who knows what food additives.

Ninety-nine bottle of pop on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of pop. You take one down, pass it around…

We can’t forget about the illustrious beverage that is almost certainly included with the kids meal. The menu will likely state, “Includes your choice of milk, juice or fountain drink.” Which of these is the best choice for your child? I’ll give you a hint: none. What the menu should say is, choice of sugar, sugar or sugar with artificial colorings. The best drink for kids is water.

On the good ship lollipop, Its a sweet trip to a candy shop.

While it may or may not be mentioned on the menu, I’ve found that kids meals often come with a surprise, be it a treat or toy. While I’m certainly not a fan of some cheap toy made in China, at least they don’t eat that. I hate it when a piece of candy or cookie shows up and now I have decide whether to just let my little one have it or explain why it’s not a good idea.

Aside from filling our kids up with pseudo food, it teaches our kids that junk is what you eat when you go out for a meal. Let’s face it. It’s hard enough to get kids to eat their veggies, and feeding the little ones things off the kids menu undermines all those efforts at home.

So what DO you order for the kids when out to eat?

1. Use the kids menu as a coloring book and not actually a menu

2. Give your kids a few options from the regular menu. At roughly $4-$7 per kids menu item, having your kids split a regular meal can often be the same price. Portion sizes are generally huge and way more than even one adult can eat, so share your meal with your child. Another idea is ordering a full meal and saving the other portion for their lunch the next day.

3. Look at the side dishes and starters: a cup of veggie-filled soup, steamed or roasted veggies, baked potato with broccoli, beans and rice, etc. There are often reduced sized items that could be perfect for a pint-sized appetite.They tend to be less expensive than a full meal and can offer some healthful choices (you’ll have to get savvy at finding the healthier choices amongst the potato skins and mozzarella sticks).

4. Go “Family Style” and together as a table decide on a few entrees. Ask for extra plates, put the entrees in the middle, and have everyone share. This is a great way to offer lots of variety and the ability to taste a little of everything.

5. Skip beverages all together. Ask for lemon wedges to go with the free ice water. Not only will drinking water save you money, you’ll avoid unnecessary sweeteners, preservatives and colors. I’ll often ask for a kid’s cup for my daughter as it still makes her feel special while she is drinking her water (Quick tip: take your kid’s cups and lids home as they are great to reuse later). Does your area tap water taste horrible like ours does? Bring your own water in a reusable bottle.

6. Give your child some credit. While he may choose to order mac n’ cheese, he may also love the veggie lasagna or roasted chicken. Kids menu options might be the norm, but they don’t have to be the norm for your child.

Ordering off the kids menu is a habit that can be easily be broken. While  the kids menu may seem like a good deal, the only deal you’re getting is unhealthy food at a low cost.

 

Ever find a fantastic kids menu loaded with healthy options? Take a picture and share it on our Facebook Page. Got a great tip on eating out with kids? Please share in your comment. Did you try one of our tips? Please share your experience!

Photo by Alesist via Flickr