Last Saturday night, we decided to get out of the house and pick up dinner at our local kid-friendly restaurant. My son had been recovering from a tonsillectomy for the past week, and he told us he was finally feeling good enough to leave the house, which couldn't have come at a better time since I was going a bit stir crazy.
We settled in for our booth and as an appetizer, we ordered a basket of their famous fries. We were having a celebration of sorts, so why not, right? When the server finally came to take our dinner order, my kids both ordered the spaghetti, one with red sauce and one with butter. The server turned to them and asked, "Are fries okay with that?"
To which I butted in and replied, "No, fries are not okay." I had to catch myself because I was on the verge of sounding like one of those crazy control-freak moms, I realize this. So I gently backed down and asked what other options they had.
Turns out they had a whole host of awesome sides that were not only healthier for my kids to eat, but a lot better suited for a pasta dinner. I mean, who in their right mind eats fries with spaghetti anyhow? Amongst the choices were 2 types of salad - Caesar and mixed greens, applesauce, carrots and ranch dressing, sliced apples with yogurt dip, steamed veggies, and grilled veggies. As far as kids menus go, we had struck the holy grail in terms of nutrition and assortment, right?
So why was the server suggesting fries at all, let alone fries with pasta?
The kids agreed on a salad and apple sauce each, and we went on with enjoying our night out at a family, but I couldn't let it go, even when my husband half-jokingly told me to get over it. Since I'm writing about it here, you can see I didn't really heed his advice.
All joking aside, I'm not really brooding about it still, but perhaps offering some perspective and advice to restauranteurs across the country, from a mom who's not only trying to raise healthy kids, but kids who make a wide array of culinary choices. First, when the server offers the kids fries or chicken fingers or dessert (happens ALL the TIME), it makes me the bad guy when I have to step in and say no. It also assumes that my kids will only eat fried foods, or foods loaded with cheese and sauce and full of salt and sugar. I'm trying my hardest to expand my kids' taste buds, and fries, especially fries with spaghetti, don't really help at all.
I get that the young server probably doesn't have kids of his own, and in his mind he thinks kids just want fried food all the time. I'm really not mad at him or the restaurant, because they've done a great job of expanding their kids menu to provide so many great options for kids and parents. It's something you can tell they really developed with intention. So why not take full advantage of that hard work and offer some other healthier options above the fries or chicken fingers? Or better yet, don't even offer up any suggestions at all, but simply ask, "What would you like as your side dish?"
Sometimes a simple change of words and sentiment can alter the course of an evening out for a family. Luckily for me, my son only wanted the apple sauce, and my daughter loves a good Caesar salad, so peace was maintained. Oh, and we had ordered the basket of fries to nibble on as an appetizer. But for a minute there it could have easily went south, no thanks to our server.
So when you're out to eat with your kids, do you let them make their own choices, or do you hover (like me), and "gently" make suggestions for them? And most importantly, how do you raise healthy and adventurous eaters when the average kids menu across the country is so dismal?
-By Andrea Howe
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