Have you looked at the kids' menus in restaurants lately? I mean, I don't want to exaggerate but they're truly one of the great disgraces of this generation.

Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. My point is: they're horrible and, if you care about your child's nutrition, I urge you to never choose anything from that pitiful list.

In fact, I'll go further: food isn't just nutrition. Food is culture. Relegating your child to chicken nuggets and mac and cheese is depriving them of a layer of knowledge of the culture they live in.

In 2010, Manhattan restaurateur (and father of two) Nicola Mazovilla was quoted in the New York Times saying children's menus "are the death of civilisation", precisely because they entail this loss of culinary heritage.


Aside from that, on a perhaps more practical level, children's menus are also an unhealthy mess of overly-processed foods. They contribute to fussy eating and they widen the gap between the children and the rest of the family. They have no redeeming qualities.

Look, I get it. You are out for a meal, spending sometimes the equivalent of your weekly grocery budget on one dinner, the last thing you want is a tantrum over cauliflower at the table. If chicken nuggets keep your child quiet and allow you to enjoy your pricey meal, then chicken nuggets can be your best option and don't let anyone – especially me – tell you otherwise.

But know what you are giving up for that peace and quiet, before you decide to pay such a high price for it.

Reducing your child's food options to the children's menu is depriving them from expanding their palate. Photo / 123RF
Reducing your child's food options to the children's menu is depriving them from expanding their palate. Photo / 123RF

The kids' menu is the path of least resistance and, as a parent, I 100 per cent understand how tempting that path is. Your child may thank you one day for avoiding it.

These overly simplistic (and very nutritiously dubious) menus indulge children's picky eating tendencies as well as your penchant for a quiet meal with the family. But what they don't do is cater to your child's actual needs.

They're there to cater to a parent's desire to have a meal in peace without having to use UN negotiation tactics to get their child to eat one more piece of broccoli. And while I sympathise with that need as much as anyone else, it's time to start giving children the benefit of the doubt, with a side of something delicious to challenge their palate.

Let kids eat what adults eat. You can't keep complaining that your child is a fussy eater if you don't try to expand their palate.

If you think this is a small matter, you are ignoring New Zealand's alarming rates of childhood obesity. Restaurant kids' menus are doing nothing to help with that. Instead, they help cultivate the dumbed down palate of the chicken nugget generation.


Registered nutritionist Mikki Williden warns parents against the entire concept of "kids food" - a concept she says never existed when she was growing up and does not need to exist today.

"We could have an entire supermarket aisle devoted to cereals with cartoon characters or sports people on the front, food that is squeezed out of a tube, and squashed fruit puree in the shape of a bar," she says, pointing to the overwhelming size of the industry devoted to make you believe your kid needs to eat something different to what you eat.

"Parents often feel guilty if they choose not to offer their children these foods, and I have talked through with clients how they manage their children's expectations when they often see them in the lunch box of their peers. At home, it is not uncommon for parents to prepare a different meal for their children. This culture extends to restaurants, where there are separate kids' menus for food options such as pizza, chicken nuggets, fish and chips, macaroni cheese, soft drink and the like. Most items on it will arrive in the familiar shades of golden brown, red, and yellow, or a combination of these; seldom do the options include more nutrient-dense foods," she adds.

The effects of these choices are, to put it mildly, terrifying.

"Overall, not only do ultra-processed foods [driven by the food culture] lead to poor blood sugar control — resulting in energy highs and lows, lack of concentration, brain fogginess and cravings for sugar — they crowd the plate, leaving little room for nutrient-dense foods that contain essential nutrients for the gut and brain, both of which are gatekeepers for our overall health and wellbeing."

The impacts of choosing these nutrient-poor foods can be lifelong.

"Children need the same nutrients as adults from the get-go to ensure they are nourished through important windows of development," Williden says.

Do not dumb down your kid's food. Rage against the kids' menu and its assumption that your child cannot possibly be developed enough to enjoy something from the regular menu.

She agrees that children's menus should be scrapped. Instead, parents should be able to get "kid portions of the main menu".

"To provide separate, special food and menus [for children] is unnecessary and doing a disservice to the customer."

Next time you're in a restaurant, dare your child to choose from the whole menu, You could be surprised by how adventurous those small people can be.