I have a love-hate relationship with kids’ menus.
I grumble every time I pay $8 for obviously frozen chicken fingers, buttered pasta or macaroni and cheese that clearly came out of a box (especially when the restaurant serves fresh, high-quality food to adults).
At the same time, I often feel a what-will-she-eat moment of worry when there isn’t a kids’ menu for my picky 6-year-old daughter.
This is why I’ve come up with a number of ordering tricks for when I want to bypass a kids’ menu that’s just too junky, and for when we dine out at restaurants that don’t have special options for kids (like many of the restaurants we ate at during a family trip to Paris). Today’s hint is three of my tricks.
1. Look for small plates. Appetizers and side dishes are essentially kid-size meals and can be alternatives to kids’ menus. In Italian restaurants, my daughter will go for side orders of pasta and meatballs or sausage. In Asian restaurants, she favors chicken or beef skewers, dumplings and fried tofu. In a fish shack, she’ll take fried calamari or any type of shrimp. And a side of broccoli or string beans rounds outs these meals nutritionally.
2. Ask what the kitchen can do. Some restaurants that don’t have kids’ menus will do a half-order of one of their regular dishes. This works best with entrees like pasta; don’t expect a restaurant to serve half a steak.
I’ve also asked for, and received, off-menu items like scrambled eggs or a plain grilled chicken breast. I usually look at what’s on the menu for a hint about what to ask for. Some chefs will even have an off-menu dish (like grilled chicken) that they routinely do for kids.
If you decide to go this route, ask how much this special item will be before you order. Most restaurants will charge about the price of a kids’ meal. But some will soak you and charge for a full adult entrée.
3. Eat family style. When a restaurant won’t do a kids’ meal (or wants to charge too heavily for it) and we can’t really leave, or when we have that feeling our child isn’t going to eat much no matter what we order for her, we order food for the whole family to share.
We might make a meal out of a few appetizers and a salad (especially if dinner hour coincides with happy hour and there are specials). Or we’ll share two entrées and maybe a side. My daughter can eat what she wants, and how much (or little) she wants, and everyone is happy. Plus, there isn’t a frozen chicken finger in sight.
What are your tricks for ordering when there’s no kids’ menu, or the kids’ menu is just too junky?
Hint Mama contributor Eileen Gunn is the founder of FamiliesGo!, a website that helps parents plan better family vacations more easily. She’s a veteran journalist, fearless traveler and mom of one. Her hotel-loving 6-year-old has been out of the country nine times (plus 2 in utero), taken 2 cruises, boarded several planes and taken a bunch of car trips. You can follow Eileen on Pinterest or Twitter.