The Jillian Bolger Column


Jillian BolgerCan someone please call time on kids’ menus, asks Food & Travel Writer JILLIAN BOLGER

When did we ever decide kids’ menus were a good idea? Long before chicken nuggets, or goujons, or tenders became a thing, apparently.

Research reveals they first appeared in US department store cafés and railway carriage in the 1920s, complete with cute images and bland, forgettable food offerings. Few children, aside from wealthy ones, ate out back then, but fast-forward to the 1950s when a new generation was introduced to fast food restaurants and, rather regrettably, the invention of the chicken nugget.

This change in eating habits not only marked a challenge to wholesome food but also dovetailed with the demise of dining together as a family. Up until the 1990s family restaurant outings were most often an occasional treat with most of us still sitting down to eat together at home.

No matter how mediocre a cook, most parents will endeavour to feed their kids a balanced diet, making the same meals for the adults and children. If we’re brought up this way at home why then do the majority of family-friendly restaurants insist on offering children lazy, limited fast-food style choices?

Let’s consider the message a standard kids’ menu of nuggets, pizza, burgers and chips communicates to children?

The short list of ‘kids’ favourites’ tells them that:

1) they’re not expected to try grown-up food
2) it’s OK to skip healthy foods like vegetables and fish
3) chicken nuggets, sausages and chips are what children should eat

I want to know when we stopped feeding children normal adult foods? And why?

It’s too simplistic to lay the blame at the door of chefs and restaurateurs, who are only offering what they know will be eaten. Put chicken stir-fry up against chicken nuggets and we know which dish will win out.

But let’s say chicken nuggets weren’t an option? Let’s say kids who love chicken had to choose the stir-fry? What’s the worst thing that will happen? They pick out the meat and leave the vegetables. The best thing? They’ll enjoy their meal and maybe even love the garlic and ginger flavours so much they’ll ask you to try to replicate it at home.

And while it’s true that not all burgers (or goujons, or even sausages) are created equal, do we really think children will freak out if they’re not handed a predictable list of dumbed-down options every time they eat out?

As adults who enjoy food we all know the pleasure of perusing a menu to see what unexpected offerings might take our fancy. So why are so many establishments denying that same surprise factor to their younger diners? Why have fruit and vegetables, spices and seafood been pushed out of the picture? I can’t be the only one whose kids enjoy these things.

There will always be burger joints and pizzerias for those times when you want a fuss-free experience but why aren’t more places treating children like the independent souls they are, and challenging the status quo?

Places like Beaufield Mews in Stillorgan have broken the mould, with a brilliant full-length kids’ menu offering things like cod and salmon fish cakes, beef curry and chicken Caesar salad. No. 5 Fenn’s Quay in Cork has gone one better, ditching the kids’ menu completely in favour of Kids Size Me child-size portions of everything on their imaginative menu.

This Kids Size Me initiative (from the Nutrition & Health Foundation and Restaurants Association of Ireland) is a step in the right direction but seems to works best when there aren’t any fast food options vying for kids attention.

The successful Cork restaurant is proof that children are adventurous when we allow them to be. Isn’t it time we dumped the dumbed-down menus and introduced our children to the joys of real food?

This article first appeared in Food & Wine Magazine and is reproduced with their kind permission.


Jillian Bolger

Jillian Bolger is an award-winning editor and journalist specialising in food and travel writing. A member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and former editor of Food & Wine magazine (1999-2003) she writes for The Irish Independent, Image, Food & Wine Magazine, Image Interiors and The Herald and is editor of Irish Brides magazine. She has worked with Georgina Campbell’s since 2008 and is the Dublin Editor. Jillian has won several awards for her travel writing and holds an honours degree in the Arts. Her love of travel has seen her live in Australia, Sri Lanka, the USA and Germany. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. Follow her on Twitter at @JillianBolger


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