Push to get better children’s meals on restaurant menus

Who doesn’t love a great family restaurant outing? It means no cooking, no washing, and the chance to try something new. But kids tend to get served up the same nuggets and chips, or mini pizza option, no matter which restaurant is on the menu. Now there’s a push for restaurants to strip traditional children’s meals of their deep-fried fare.

Renown children’s food expert Annabel Karmel tells Babyology that restaurants are under increasing pressure to revamp their children’s menus, and create recipes that encourage healthy eating. But she says it’s only the beginning.

“I do believe there is still work to be done to offer a wider variety of healthy but appealing options; simply adding a portion of veg to chicken nuggets and chips isn’t enough, and we underestimate just how adventurous children can be.”

Annabel believes a restaurant is the perfect environment to encourage kids to try something new. It prompted her involvement in creating nutritious children’s menus for restaurants in InterContinental Hotels, including the one in Double Bay, Sydney.

“We came up with a host of dishes which embraced flavours, textures, smells and tastes that would help ensure a nutritionally balanced meal whilst encouraging young diners to explore something new such as my delicious broccoli and sweetcorn fritters or my special tomato risotto,” Annabel explains.

This concept has now expanded even further, with InterContinental Hotel Group partnering with Nutrition Australia to overhaul kids’ menus at Holday Inn Hotels and Resorts. Hotels in Asia, the Middle East and Africa will soon include the menus in their restaurants.

Phil Broad, Vice President of Food and Beverage at IHG says, “we’ll be able to provide a wider variety of healthy options for kids – much more than just the standard burgers, pastas and chips – options which are going to be more nutritious, whilst presented in a fun way.”

It’s a move that’s been embraced by Nutrition Australia, with executive office Lucinda Hancock applauding the menu revamp. “For children, it is particularly important because healthy eating habits are often formed during childhood.”

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While kids can obviously indulge in party food fare as a treat, Annabel Karmel says there’s no reason why these traditional kids’ favourites can’t be made healthier, and tastier. She says it’s “particularly important given that dining out with the family has become more popular than ever. We need healthier options for families who want the best for their children”.

Miriam Raleigh, paediatric dietitian at Child Nutrition, says children’s restaurant meals, like chips and nuggets are fine as occasional treat, but suggests ordering a salad and vegetables for the family.

“Some good options for kids menus would be schnitzels (rather than nuggets), grilled fish (rather than fish bites), pasta dishes with lots of vegetables (like how most of us hide vegetables in our bolognaise), pizzas with some vegetable toppings rather than just cheese, roast meats and vegetables and for all of these meals to be served with salads (dressed or not) or steamed/baked vegetables,” she tells Babyology.

But Annabel says children’s salad shouldn’t be a ‘side’, nor vegetables an ‘added extra’.

“These should come as standard, but it’s also about how you present the food as children won’t eat something that looks too overwhelming.”

Annabel says the changes made to children’s menus can be subtle, but pack a big punch in the nutrition stakes, in a bid to get even fussy eaters out of their comfort zone.

“For example, I make tasty burgers which contain my secret ingredient of apple. This gives the burgers a hint of natural sweetness. And when grilled and served with a fresh salad, they make a great meal for kids and adults.”

 

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The move towards fresher, healthier food for kids at restaurants is gaining momentum. Jamie Oliver has been a vocal advocate of healthier eating for children at home and at school, and he extends that to his children’s menus at his Australian restaurants. The protein portions of the kids’ meals are organic, and as much care is taken in making these meals tasty as it is on the adults menus.

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Annabel Karmel says she’s impressed with the direction Australia is travelling.

“Some establishments are doing a great job – and on a recent visit to Sydney I discovered a small restaurant which had a tasting plate for children with little pieces of cheese and carrot sticks and a smooth hummus dip. It was incredibly popular, and it goes to show that diners will respond to positive changes.”

(Images courtesy Jamie’s Italian)

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