Restaurants and kids – what a combination!

On one hand, kids can learn so much from eating in restaurants.  They offer up fun, interesting, tasty, and unusual food; dishes that most home chefs don’t have time to prepare.  Used correctly, restaurants can expose your kids to a host of new flavors, spark their interest in food and even teach them about different cultures.

On the other hand, bringing kids to restaurants is a potentially perilous endeavor. Who wants to have their kids melt down in the middle of a crowded dining room? That’s public parenting at its worst!  It’s hard to enjoy restaurant time when the prospect of doom is lurking in the background.

If you want to get through a night out without experiencing a nightmare, check out the article:Taking the Adorables to Restaurants.

I know it may seem like a shameless plug because I contributed to the article, but this Good Stuff Guide post really is packed with terrific ideas for parents who want to step out without stepping on a land mine! There are tips on what to bring in a Go-Bag, what games you can play at the table, and a host of other useful suggestions.

But good behavior won’t help you get the most out of the restaurant experience.  For that, you have to think of dining out, not as a restful evening for you (although it certainly can be that), but as a laboratory for training kids to eat right.

The number one way to use restaurants right is to avoid the Children’s Menu.

I realize this might be the most controversial thing I’ve ever posted — more controversial even than Coke Beats Juice (and boy, did that elicit a big reaction) but the Children’s Menu isn’t just a nutritional wasteland. It also promotes every bad habit in the book.

OK. Give your kids food from the Children’s Menu if you never (or almost never) give them that stuff at home. Then eating from the Children’s Menu will genuinely be a treat.  But watch out, the Children’s Menu usually spells disaster.

Use the Children’s Menu and you’ll feed the fire that rejects vegetables, that refuses foods that look funny, and that always wants things the same, same, same.

  • The Children’s Menu reinforces your kids’ love affair with chicken nuggets, fries, burgers, hot dogs and spaghetti.
  • The Children’s Menu reinforces your kids’ idea of what foods they are supposed to eat, what foods they will like, and by extension, which foods they will dislike.  This is particularly true in ethnic restaurants. Giving your children chicken nuggets when you’re in an India restaurant sends a pretty strong message. Since the mind is a child’s most important taste bud, this kind of brainwashing is a perilous. Read Mind Over Matter.

Encourage your child to experiment by looking to the appetizer menu for child-sized portions of child-friendly food.

Appetizers work because they are often versions of things your kids already like; they’re different, but not totally foreign. Who doesn’t like potato skins, dumplings, meatballs, quesadillas, nachos, wings?

I know appetizers aren’t usually the most nutritious items on the menu, but it’s new, not nutrition that we’re after. When you’re trying to excite your kids about food, get the adventure going first and sort out the nutrition later. Read When the Less Nutritious Choice is Right.

If your children are really reluctant to move beyond the Children’s Menu try this trick: feed them dinner at home and let them order dessert when you’re out.

There’s one caveat: the dessert your kids order has to be something they’ve never tried before!

The possibilities are endless: cheesecake, chocolate mousse, apple pie.  You’re sure to find something new that will delight your little ones (and keep them quiet long enough for you to enjoy your meal).

Using desserts to expand your children’s comfort level with new foods works for the obvious reason – they’re desserts! But it also changes your kids’ idea of what new foods are like.

Once your kids are in the habit of trying new desserts, they’ll know there’s nothing to fear about new. Eventually they’ll start looking to other parts of the menu and that’s when you can work on getting the good stuff in.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~