Two weeks ago, we had a raging discussion here on the topic of children’s menus. In a nutshell: They’re loaded with unhealthy food. They’re insulting. They perpetuate the false and damaging notion that “kid food” should be its own distinct (junked-up and deep-fried) category.
Brian Van Etten, the chef at a new restaurant about to open in Rochester, N.Y., took note. He asked for my input on a children’s menu. I offered to pose the question to readers. So here we are.
The restaurant, called The Owl House, will be making nearly everything from scratch (including condiments), and sourcing as much as possible from local growers and vendors. So there won’t be the usual concerns about overly processed brown and crispy food. But neither Brian nor the restaurant’s two owners have children, so they’re interested in input from people who do.
The menu has a lot of sandwiches — everything from smoked tofu and avocado to steak and portobello — but there also are soups, salads, snacky starters like housemade pickles and grilled flatbreads, and more elaborate plated meals.
Brian wants to know: What’s your ideal children’s menu? Would you prefer half-portions of adult meals? Or, he asks: “Are there other standbys that parents would kill to see available for their children? If so, what? Our flatbreads with a basic marinara and cheese? A simple pasta/mac-and-cheese dish?”
Anything else? Anything you’d really love to see? And anything you’d rather never (ever) see again?
Brian also offered up thoughts from the other side of the kitchen. Illuminating thoughts. That’s not to say I’m letting restaurants off the hook. Not. At. All. But what Brian said might help explain, just a little, why some restaurants fall into the children’s menu rut.
For one thing, adding separate scratchmade children’s menu items (vs. the standard packaged fare) means chefs have to add more ingredients, more prep time and more space, risky extras for a potentially small percentage of customers. Also, even with half-portions, many items are portioned in advance, so any unsold half-portions could go to waste. Brian is quick to note that he’s smart about using leftovers creatively rather than throwing them away. But still, it could happen, so for some restaurants that’s a concern.
Another interesting observation: “I worry that sometimes children don’t truly get half-portions in restaurants, (that) they get something closer to two-thirds. If we did the half-portion route, it would be truly that: exact half-portions, and most likely for exactly half the cost.” So that’s something to keep in mind if your kid is a big eater (but not a big eater).
What do you think? Here’s your chance to help design a kids’ menu that doesn’t make us cringe. For those of you outside Rochester: Maybe chefs and restaurant owners elsewhere will eavesdrop on the conversation and we can start our own little restaurant food revolution. I can hope, right?