How to avoid the chicken nugget dilemma when dining out with kids!
Kids menus, when there is one even available, are a pet peeve of mine. While some restaurants (like these Michelin starred ones) go the extra mile to cater to kids, why oh why do the majority of hotels and restaurants feel like children want to eat unseasoned fried food like chicken nuggets, chips and fried fish? Where are the flavours, the greens, the high quality ingredients that children deserve… why is mostly everything so unhealthy?
Unfortunately, even in this day and age, well thought through and well-presented kids menus are few and far between. In fact, to be perfectly honest, most restaurants don’t even have separate choices for little ones. I’m actually happier with no kids menu over an unhealthy kids menu because in a ‘no kids menu available’ scenario, I can just order a few healthy sides and portion off some of my food for my little one….but it definitely requires some work and sometimes a kid just wants his own well-presented meal you know! Or mummy doesn’t really feel like sharing haha!
Look, to sum things up, if there is a kids menu available with carefully considered options, I can tell you that any mama, anywhere in the world is always truly delighted! And maybe I take things too personally, but I actually see it as a restauranteur showing great respect for my child and his/her well-being.
Read More: Healthiest and Least Healthy Hawker Dishes
So what makes a good kids menu anyway?
Anatomy of a good kids menu and what that means when you’re ordering…
- Balance: Assuming you want a bit of the main food groups – carbs, fat, protein, dairy (if tolerant) vegetables and fruits (I intentionally left out enemy number one – sugar) – the key to ordering is to make sure you have a few little (varied) things. So instead of going for that solo dish of mac ‘n’ cheese, focus on protein at the centre of the meal and a few sides of veggies and a carb. So the mac ‘n’ cheese can be a side to a piece of roast chicken with some broccoli. It sometimes feels like a lot of food, which is why it’s often just easier to portion off from your own meals, or then head straight to the restaurants that have already figured this out (see below)! Balance to you is variety to them so it’s a win-win situation for everyone really. I’m a huge fan of buffets for kids for this reason, as I can go around and select a good balance of foods and create a colourful plate. Which brings us to…
- Colour: We all know the plate should be colourful like the rainbow, not just for kid-appeal but also because it indicates a good, nutritious variety. I’m not talking about colourful sprinkles on donuts (as much as your kid is screaming for those), but rather, red peppers, green leafy veggies, pink salmon and so on. Visualize the meal when you order it and go ahead and order that side of steamed broccoli to add some extra colour (equals nutrition) when it might be lacking, or hand over some carrot and cucumber sticks from your salad or the salad bar. All too often kids meals are white and more white.
- Flavour: I’ve written about this before and I’ll say it again…you think kids want bland food, but they really want flavour. It’s really important to introduce little ones’ palettes to a broad spectrum of flavour profiles from an early age. As parents living in Asia we should not shy away from spices, a little bit of heat and unique flavour profiles of local ingredients such as ginger, lemongrass, coconut and curry leaves. So many of us travel across the region for holidays and exposing our childrens’ hearts, minds and tongues to the rich flavours of Asia does them a great service. So the next time you’re staring at nuggets and fries on that Thai hotel kids menu, do everyone a favour and opt for the Pad Krapow Moo Saap instead…just tell them to leave out the chillies!
We are fairly lucky in Singapore that there are many excellent family-friendly dining options and menus with plenty of kid-friendly options, but I know that every mama appreciates when she doesn’t have to overthink choices and us mamas are super grateful when someone has made the effort to create a special menu for our little ones. We salute restaurants with kids menus offering balanced, nutritious, flavorful and colourful choices and here are a few of my favourites:
- Carrotsticks and Cravings: Founded by the lovely Aussie mom Terri-Ann Leske, who is a mama to 3 kids, and author of several cookbooks that focus on healthy family meals. Her new café in Dempsey has a wonderful kids’ menu featuring plenty of flavourful, colourful and often unusual but highly nutritious options for little ones. Menu items include a mini acai bowl, toast with smashed avo, and sourdough toast with peanut butter and berries. My son loved the Portobello mushroom and goat cheese on gluten free toast (not on the kids menu but he shared it with me). In addition, there are plenty of fresh juices, smoothies, energy balls and treats for kids that are relatively healthier than other places to choose from. You’ll be spoilt for choice here and even the kid meals are Insta-worthy! The trampoline on site is a fab kid bonus.
- Jamie’s Italian: This kid-friendly restaurant in kid-focused Forum mall has an ever-evolving kids menu which Mr Jamie Oliver himself (with his food revolution and campaign for healthier school lunches) has overseen, to ensure nutritious and balanced meal options for kids. Interesting menu options include fish stew, spaghetti and meatballs (they can do a gluten free pasta as well) and the chicken lollipops. And while you still have a burger and pizza on the menu, massive improvements have been made to these dishes from an ingredients perspective – so the sauce on the pizza is a 7-vege sauce and the burger comes with sweet potato fries instead of regular fries (really not much healthier). The real saving grace is that all kids meals come with a “shake me” salad, which kids adore. The presentation of the food is excellent and the coloring sheets and crayons are a great bonus.
- Super Loco: This popular Robertson Quay Mexican restaurant is always brimming with kids on the weekends and there’s a good reason why… the service is friendly and the food kid-friendly! Plus, parents get to sip on wonderful margaritas so everyone is happy! The kids menu includes lots of gluten free options (all their tortillas are gluten free, which is awesome), and our favourites are the ham and cheese quesadilla which my son enjoys with a side of guacamole and corn on the cob. Other kid menu items include avocado tomato toast and chicken and cheese tacos. Just order some healthy sides like beans, guacamole, corn etc. and you’re sorted! The menu itself is a colouring sheet and the servers will bring you coloured pencils, plus there’s plenty of riverfront real estate for the kids to scoot/bike/play. Super Loco also offers a fresh fruit plate as a dessert option on the kids menu. Hallelujah!
- Jones The Grocer: With its kids eat free from 2-5pm promotion (with every adult main course, one kids item is free), the airy café at Dempsey might just be your best bet for a late lunch or early dinner with the kids. The kids menu doubles up as a colouring playmat and while there are limited options (they are currently working on adding new items to the kids menu and bumping up the variety, flavour and nutrition factor –yay!), there is great emphasis on high quality ingredients. For example, the kids pasta dish, Chicken Linguini, is made with open barn chicken with handmade and air-dried pasta topped with freshly grated grana padano from their fantastic cheese room, and the Junior Cheeseburger is a 100% Wagyu burger, with artisan cheddar from their cheese room served in a house made brioche bun.
- Food For Thought: Of course a fabulous kids park like Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden will have a great kids café (which they’ve named Food for Tots)… but I have to admit I still miss the old and massive Food for Thought in the main Botanic Gardens. Both the newish Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and National Museum restaurants have beautifully designed kid menus with plenty of healthy and also not-so-healthy options (the adult menu has lots of healthy kid-friendly options too), so go ahead and fight the good fight, mama and good luck on battling through those choices (at least they have the park to run off the sugar!). Food for Tots, with its book trolley, interactive play area and ongoing workshops (yes to food crafternoon!), gets massive bonus points.
- IKEA: Bet you didn’t think you would see IKEA on this list, but globally this brand has placed an emphasis on happy families and happy kids,and their food offerings reflect this as well. Their cafeteria is super kid-friendly (microwaves to warm milk bottles, high chairs, changing areas, free baby food, play area with toys), and kids love the famous Swedish meatballs (they now offer chicken meatballs as well –hurrah!) as well. Plus, great healthy sides are available such as steamed broccoli and carrots. They have some wonderful salmon and smoked salmon, salads and veggie sides here if you can look past the dessert offerings. The cafeteria format means you get to make that plate as colourful as possible, mama! Bonus points to kids meals that only cost a few dollars and extra bonus points to the Tampines branch for having Halal kids meals options.
Lead image from Carrotsticks & Cravings