Monday, February 28, 2011

Kids' Menus and Kid-Sized Plates

Deep fried chicken fingers, burgers and mac ‘n cheese are the usual food finds on children’s menus. But, a nationwide focus on obesity is prompting more chefs and restaurant owners to add healthier choices to kids’ menus. They are hungry for ideas.
At a recent Southeast Regional Conference of the American Culinary Federation held in Atlanta, I presented the basics on childhood nutrition and meal planning along with some comments on menu choices around the city. For instance, at Marlow’s Tavern families can start with a platter of raw vegetables and humus and parents can order their brood mini-burgers or kid-sized versions of entrees such as grilled salmon with a side of fresh fruit. Instead of sodas, ask for a blend of sparkling water with 100% fruit juice. Low fat or non fat milk is always a great choice too!
More restaurants are willing to serve smaller portions that fit smaller appetites; and that’s for all age groups! Another good trend for good nutrition, eateries are offering whole grain pastas and pizza crusts. California Pizza Kitchen has recently added a multi-grain penne pasta to their menu. Wherever you dine with the kids, watch out for the 3 “B”s: the bread, butter and beverages you consume before you get your meal can pile on 100’s of extra calories.

What Kids Need Children are not just small adults when it comes to nutrition. For instance, under age two, they still need the essential fatty acids in whole milk to ensure proper brain development.
After that the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend skim, 1 % or 2 % milk to get kids the calcium they need for strong bones without the added fat and calories they don’t need. More restaurants today offer low fat milk and skim. Growing kids need a variety of nutrients so it’s important that their daily calorie quota comes from a variety of sources.
Here’s the daily meal plan recommended for an active child: Active is considered 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day
1600 calories
Grain Group- 5 ounces (1ounce= slice of bread, ½ cup rice or 1 small roll)
Vegetable Group- 2 cups
Fruit Group – 1 ½ cups
Milk Group - 2 cups (1 cup = 1 cup milk, 2 pieces of string cheese or 1 cup yogurt)
Meat and Beans Group – 5 ounces (1 ounce = slice of cheese, ¼ cup beans or 1 ounce meat)

Small Measures How small is small enough when choosing restaurant portions for kids? Buying the small order of fries for the small fry in the family may actually be too large if you’re trying to follow the latest advice on childhood nutrition. A typical small sized order of fast food French fries contains about 230 calories and includes around 30 fries. If you’re counting these potatoes as a vegetable for your child; just 10 fries are considered a serving. Eating more protein than they need is common for American kids, too. Dr. Margaret Condrasky, professor of food science and nutrition at Clemson University, informed chefs attending the culinary meeting, “Adult males need only about 60 grams of protein per day. So children need far less. That’s why a proper portion for children can be two or three ounces of meat.” Condrasky added that kid-friendly foods such as peanut butter on whole wheat bread, macaroni and cheese as well as Mexican beans and rice offer vegetable sources of good quality protein for children, too.

The secret to seeking the best children’s menus at restaurants wherever you dine today may be to find the staff most willing to split adult sized entrees for the family to share or to serve just part of an entrée or pasta dish to a child and box up the rest in a take out container to enjoy at another meal.

1 comment:

Healthy Kids Challenge said...

I just have to say Thank You for posting this blog about kids and eating out. We are often asked where are the best places to get a "decent" kids' meal, and it's good to know that more restaurants are offering truly healthy, and tasty, options for kids. One thing I always add is that the adult needs to be a good role model and order a healthier option as well. Or at least order sensibly (no "large" size) and share if possible. Actions speak louder than words.