It’s time to ditch the kids menu.
It will take some work (yes, parenting is mostly work), but it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think.
So unclutch your pearls and hear me out. If we truly understand the reality that the children in our lives are *the future*, then there’s absolutely no good reason why the young, up-and-coming leaders of the world have only three processed carb and protein options at a restaurant.
Imagine being treated that way as an adult. Very few of us would accept it for ourselves, nor should we accept it for our children. They are, after all, people too, with the same variety of palates and ability to enjoy real food. But because we’ve been made to believe otherwise, we have shaped our children’s palates into a dino-chicken nugget. For many complex societal reasons, we have embraced unimaginative dining.
We have accepted it as normal that we go from eating family-style at home — generally all ages within the family unit eating the same dishes with varying portion sizes — to having a completely different set of expectations at a restaurant for both children’s food choices and behavior.
In restaurants, everyone orders a separate entrée. The portion sizes are often too outrageous for one human to digest. And for the little ones, the somewhat-special occasion of dining out is marked by some of the most banal cuisine, while they’re watching YouTube unboxing videos on mom’s phone.
We (I’m in the club as a mother of four) don’t have to settle for this. We have options, and many restaurant menus are set up for a family-friendly and interesting culinary experience. Forgo the kids menu and give your children permission to share with the adults. The more interaction between the little ones, the other diners, and the food, the less screen time they’ll want.
Making a drastic reversal from the chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese won’t happen overnight, but an updated mindset could lead to a more enjoyable dining experience. With input from my children (13, 11, 9 and 6), here are some suggestions for how to order for your crew. And, if you’re in the family-friendly city of Greenville, South Carolina, where to find the goods.
What child (and adult) doesn’t love finger food? A meat and cheese board is perfect for all ages and allows for both adventurous and tame options. Don’t feel guilty about using the familiar names of items when introducing kids to items on the board if they’re new-food averse. Call meat options pepperoni and ham as opposed to salami and prosciutto. For a simpler board, head to Coastal Crust in the Village of West Greenville. For a more adventurous crew, Stella’s Southern Brasserie will make the board of your dreams.
Sides or small plates
Tasting five different sides or small plate items can be as filling as an entrée, so take a look at at the fringes of the menu. Bacon Bros. Public House has a dozen appetizers and almost as many sides made from quality ingredients. Pack the center of the table, fill tiny bellies, and satisfy adult palates with brisket chili or brussels sprouts. Kitchen Sync’s Local Toast, Fennel Ricotta Meatballs, and various other sides make for great shareables, as well.
Treat it like takeout. If you order Chinese, you’ll likely get containers of sesame chicken, rice, and wontons, dishing out portions for everyone. Look at ordering similarly when at a restaurant. The Burrow has several great bowl options — Gammie’s Red Beans & Rice, Potato Gnocchi, and a curry vegetable bowl. Mekong, too, has dozens of options to share — vermicelli bowls or rice platters can be customized with proteins to satisfy the whole group.
Not everyone needs to order and consume an entire steak or pile of smoked meat. If your kids enjoy seafood, consider ordering a whole fish to share (just keep an eye out for bones). For the meat-eaters, order a platter of various different smoked meats. Again, The Burrow has two excellent shareable options — a whole fried Branzino or a half rotisserie chicken. Back at Bacon Bros., order a platter with house-smoked brisket, pork, and sausage and let everyone dig in.
Again, ordering differently than you have for the entirety of your children’s lives isn’t going to be instantly satisfactory. Make it an exciting adventure (as dining should always be) and understand that trial and error will be worth it.