Reimagine Kids Menus with Fresh Flavors and Lots of Vegetables
Kids menus used to all offer the same combination of hamburgers, chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs. It was essentially fast food: high in fat and calories, low on fresh produce and ingenuity. But restaurant offerings for children are slowly changing for the better, thanks to forward thinking chefs and restaurateurs.
For Victoria Trummer, co-owner of Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, Virginia, the desire to add a tasting menu for little ones at her fine dining restaurant was personally motivated. She and her husband, co-owner Stefan Trummer, love eating out, but they don’t want to leave their children, ages five and two, with a sitter. “We tend to over order, which means meals take time,” she says. “The kids get antsy and bored, so how do you keep them entertained without an iPad or coloring book?”
Their solution? The Petite Gourmand five-course tasting menu, which is served simultaneously with the restaurant’s regular tasting menu. Trummer recommends it for children aged 10-12-years-old, though younger diners have enjoyed it. Approximately five to 10 little guests order it every week.
Meals begin with shared snacks—which are the same for adults and children—such as foie gras, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cider-poached apples with Gruyere fondue, and Yukon gold potato blini with caviar and crème frâiche. The idea is to incorporate some familiar ingredients and preparations alongside those that would be more challenging for younger palates. “We don’t want to overdo it and make it too froufrou,” says Trummer.
Though the menus diverge from there, the philosophy extends to the ensuing courses for younger diners, which have included risotto topped with lump crab, ham and cheese croquettes and braised beef short ribs with roasted butternut squash.
These advanced kids menus can be a sly way of educating more than just these diminutive diners’ palates. Edouardo Jordan, the chef-owner of Salare in Seattle, has a two-year-old son, who he wants to teach about seasonality. “He will come in and ask for blueberries and I’ll tell him he has to wait until next August,” says Jordan.
That’s why his kids menu–which usually include a pasta, a protein and a produce-driven option–focuses on whatever’s freshest. Options have included duck hash with kale rapini and potatoes, a riff on green eggs and ham with spinach puree, and chicken noodle soup. The menu has been a huge hit, serving between 10-20 pint-sized patrons a week. “One of the most touching things ever was a kid who told me, ‘Chef, this was the most magical meal I ever had,’” says Jordan.
He doesn’t do it for the compliments though. Jordan’s main objective is to provide healthy options for children, which he would feel good about feeding his own son. “It’s our goal to give kids a happy, balanced meal, not a Happy Meal,” he says.
Alpana Singh, proprietor of Seven Lions in Chicago, was inspired to completely overhaul her Little Lions menu after seeing the documentary Fed Up, which explores the root causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States. “Charity starts at home,” she says. “We were as guilty as anyone of offering children unhealthy food choices. There were chicken tenders and a grilled cheese on our kids menu. It wasn’t something we put a lot of thought into. It was a byproduct of laziness and complacency.”
A year ago, she posted on Facebook to ask parents what they would want their children to eat when they came into the restaurant. There was an outpouring of feedback. “What I quickly learned is that the needs for children are wide and varied,” says Singh. “Some will eat anything, some will freak out if they see a speck of green. So our menu is easily customizable.”
For example, the pizzette be plain or topped by two vegetables. Pasta can be prepared plain, buttered, with cheese, tossed with vegetables, or however the tyke wants it. Other options include a Caesar salad, grilled chicken breast and a vegetables and dip platter.
The Little Lions menu has been a win-win for the restaurant. “We thought parents would be more likely to dine with us if their children had good menu choices,” says Singh. “We were right.”