Kids Eat The Darndest Things (Or Not)

This past Wednesday’s NYTimes Dining Section featured a light-hearted look at children’s menus, specifically how they almost universally feature chicken fingers. The writer, David Kamp, used to love the fingers’ ability to placate his children at restaurant after restaurant, until he realized what this represented: a subversive takeover of young American palates by a singular, homogenous and not entirely healthy foodstuff. Let’s assume you, the voracious reader, already know why this is a problem (never too early to start building bad eating habits and entitlement issues!)

Kamp goes on to report about bringing children into the adult food/local/seasonal/organic fold with new and improved kids menus at institutions as diverse as Disneyland (where French fries are no longer automatic) and Latitude 41 (grilled organic chicken teriyaki, anyone?).

We will get to some smarter kids menu options in Chicago momentarily, but first we want to highlight an issue whose root cause is not fully addressed in the article: why kids and adults prefer to eat different foods. Yes, that preference was certainly exploited by the fast food industry over the past thirty years, but it was not invented by the fast food industry. Even little children who don’t watch TV and have never set foot in a McDonald’s prefer different foods than their parents, at least at the outset. The explanation? A smart cousin once told us that children’s innate biological imperative to survive steers them toward food that’s bland and familiar. It is easy to imagine how the flavors and textures that adults crave could send out warning signs of inedibility to a child: spice hurts, and things that hurt are bad, for example. Nothing in the world is as consistent and unthreatening as a chicken finger, and so, kids gravitate toward them.

But that doesn’t mean you, the parent, shouldn’t occasionally curb those defensive instincts, lest your child grow up to be a conservative eater (and fat!) Here are some restaurants with kid’s menus that have more to offer than golden logs of conformity:

Wishbone’s children’s menu includes a host of cutely named, Southern-influenced dishes like the Original M ‘n’ C, made with four cheeses and topped with baked ham or chicken sausage ($5.95)

Big Bowl Cafe has a ton of kid-friendly pan-Asian noodle dishes and stir fries - even a kid’s pad Thai!

Chicago Diner has options specially designed for your budding vegan, like the Not Dog with homestyle potatoes, coleslaw, mac n cheeze, or brown rice ($6.95; note the spelling of “cheeze”)

So you see, all is not lost for our nation’s youth. Just don’t give into them all the time! And don’t overcook the vegetables you give them, either.

[Photo: Salomon]

Don’t Point That Menu at My Child, Please [NYTimes]

Latitude 41 [Official Site]

Wishbone [MenuPages]
Wishbone [Official Site]

Big Bowl Cafe [MenuPages]
Big Bowl Cafe [Official Site]

Chicago Diner [MenuPages]
Chicago Diner [Official Site]


Kids Eat The Darndest Things (Or Not)