Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelly Bridgeman: Children's menu? No, thanks

Kid's menus are often filled with unhealthy options. Photo / Thinkstock
Kid's menus are often filled with unhealthy options. Photo / Thinkstock

When my daughter was about two there were seventeen foods she would eat - including apples, bananas, blueberries, bread, carrots, cheerio sausages, cheese, eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice, fish fingers, hummus, milk, spaghetti and Weetbix. I was relaxed about this because (apart from the cheerios) it seemed like quite a healthy diet.

Everyone said that it was natural for children (especially little girls) to be fussy eaters. My mother reckoned I didn't eat a vegetable until I was ten years old and it didn't do me any harm (twitch twitch). And, of course, I was never going to be one of those parents who forced my child to eat something - or so I thought.

Fast-forward a few years and at the age of six my daughter still ate only those seventeen foods. She hadn't added any new foods to the list as I'd expected her to. In fact, she had pretty much refused to even try anything new. It was time for action.

I'd read some random fact that a child needed to taste a food sixteen times before they knew whether they liked it or not. And so I started with broccoli. About every second night I'd insist she try just one small spoonful.

She was not impressed. From the expression on her face you'd have thought I was trying to poison her. All I was wanted was for her to become accustomed to new tastes. It worked. She gradually became less averse to the flavour and began feeding herself reasonably sized servings. These days she claims broccoli is her favourite vegetable.

And so I went through the vegetables. Pumpkin was next, and she really gagged on its consistency so I told her she was allowed to have one food that she doesn't have to eat.

(Don't we all have something we can't stomach? I won't touch mushrooms.) Now my daughter eats pumpkin but feta has become the official dinner-time villain. Once again, I think it's the texture she's objecting to.

Given that background I suspect that eating well and healthily and adventurously all depends on a willingness to taste new foods. So when restaurants produce a children's menu full of deep-fried offerings, it's counterproductive to the open-minded attitudes I'm trying to foster.

As I explained in an earlier piece, if I take my child out to eat, "it's because I'm trying to broaden her horizons, and give her the chance to enjoy different cuisines and food she wouldn't get at home. I always think it's important that she eats pretty much the same as we do. And, besides, if I wanted her to have fish and chips or chicken nuggets and chips or hotdog and chips I would have taken her to a fast-food joint."

This view is reinforced in Kids' restaurant menus: does it have to be chips with everything? in which the author bemoans the selection offered to children: "What a dull old landscape it is in kid-food land: processed nuggets and fish fingers, mini burgers and pizzas, pasta with vapid sauces, chips."

I similarly cringe when a waitress offers us a children's menu laden with dumbed-down fare. Why would we order fries at, say, a Thai restaurant when steamed rice is on hand for a picky eater? I know they're only trying to be helpful but I usually decline the kiddie version and explain that we'll all order from the main menu.

However I've learnt not to be too hasty. Some restaurants do manage to cater to the whims of children without sacrificing the core values of the establishment.

Elephant Hill in Hawkes Bay puts a lot of effort into its children's organic spaghetti bolognaise and gourmet burgers, and even serves fresh fruit and cheese on the side. Meanwhile Soto, Freemans Bay, offers children teriyaki chicken and rice - uncomplicated fare that nonetheless is in keeping with its Japanese sensibility.

What's your view? Does fried food on children's menus annoy you? Or are you pleased just to find something the children will eat? Where was the best children's menu you've encountered?

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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