The kid's menu. We've pretty much ignored it since Ria was born, she didn't eat enough to warrant a $6 meal and was happy just munching on our fries and bits of our dinners. She still can't finish a whole kid's meal on her own but now that her little sister is big enough to help out, they can eat one between the two of them. This is happy times, because I know that I can eat my own plate of calamari, but also a bit tragic as I have to pay for an extra plate of food.
Still, kid's menus vary a lot from place to place and often contain food I really don't want the girls to eat. Here's a few of my tips and thoughts on the matter (keep in mind that my girls are both under 3 still, so I have more control over what they order!):
- Some of the menus (especially in family chain restaurants) are set up so that you have to order a drink, main dish, side, and desert. I've noticed that a fruit cup is listed in the side and the desert section. I usually get juice or milk for the drink (Ria doesn't get much juice at home, and is fairly sure that she should get it when we're out. Fine by me.), veggies for the side and fruit for the desert. I figure they can steal fries from one of us and still get a decently balanced meal.
- For the main, I have two criteria: 1) both kids have to be able to manage it (we do baby-led weaning, therefore Sunny eats with her fingers). So chicken fingers win over spaghetti. 2) It can't be crazy messy (I never remember a bib, and we usually eat out when we are out for the day). So...chicken fingers win over spaghetti.
- If the kids meal comes with a desert that you approve of, ask for it to be served with the meal. We never stay for desert, and if we did the girls would not be impressed to sit and eat a fruit cup while we ate cheesecake.
- If you are trying to maintain a fairly wheat free diet it's a bit hit and miss. In the restaurant we visited when I took these photos they had a choice of three pasta dishes and three pizzas on the menu. Pasta and pizza fail the messy test, and are heavy on the wheat, so what to do? I noticed that they had salads with an option of adding grilled chicken or prawns for $4. Excellent. I ordered $4 of grilled chicken and a side of veggies ($2 for chopped carrots and cucumber...whatever). It was perfect, not messy and very healthy. A lot of the time there will be seasoning that can still contain wheat, so if you have kids who are very sensitive I would ask about that.
- Many restaurants give kids colouring sheets and a cup of crayons. This is excellent once they are past the crayon eating phase (servers were always trying to give my babies crayons, obviously not parents!). Some places, however have a little toy package thing. I thought this was a fast food deal but both Boston Pizza and Joey's Only (our only family chains in town) did this. They were cheap and not age appropriate. Like crossword puzzles with two terrible crayons and a plastic puzzle thing (the kind with the little squares you slid around?) that Ria broke in half an hour leaving tiny pieces all over for Sunny to choke on. All sorts of packaging and really just a bag of stuff I wanted to throw out immediately (but couldn't until Ria was distracted, she was sure it was all treasures). I'm sure they thought it was good marketing, but please, don't do me any more favours! In the future I know to tell them not to bring us the toy package and I'll just bring crayons and paper in my purse with some toys they won't choke on. Please don't think I'm just being snobby about tacky toys, they were truly brutal for any kid under six or so.
In general, I just try to find things they will like enough to eat lots of (and not waste my $6) without feeding them wheat and wheat with a side of sugar. Always have a look at the rest of the menu, and don't be afraid to ask for something really basic. I've often gotten a few slices of cucumber or peppers for them to munch on, it's not a big deal.
Do you love taking your little people out to eat, do you have any tips for me?