A Healthy Balance for Kids: A Mom’s Eye View of Kids’ Meals

My daughter just flexed her adorable kid muscles to show me “the energy” in her arms.

Her favorite breakfast? Oatmeal with almond butter and berries. Favorite snack? Cashews and diced red bell pepper. Favorite family date night meal away from home? A tie between grilled chicken with asparagus (yes, asparagus) and a cheeseburger with fries. Sometimes the cheeseburger wins the coin toss, but our family meal is a win either way. I focus on modeling a healthy, happy, active lifestyle, and leave room for the occasional indulgence. It is my responsibility to help my daughter develop her palate by building a strong foundation of understanding about the way we use food—as fuel and (on occasion) as a reward. If the restaurants we visit offer a variety of colorful, flavorful menu items and ingredients, then we can continue to make healthy choices when we dine out or take out.

Here are 3 ways to outsmart the average kids’ menu:

  1. If the kids’ meal portion is large but includes a side of fruit, ask your server to bring the fruit out first, as an appetizer.
  2. Explore the menu beyond the kids’ meals. Is there a 55+ menu? You’ll frequently find green veggies and proteins with lighter prep here. Ask if you can order a smaller version of that protein, or substitute the fresh veggies for the kids’ meal default side (which is usually fries or potato chips).
  3. Identify ways to build a smarter plate. Build a veggie plate or re-think a sandwich to make it more age-appropriate, like a meat and cheese roll-up for younger kids. Ask for condiments on the side for dipping.

As a mom, I define value beyond simply the price point—I’m looking at the ROI. I will gladly spend more for high quality/fresh ingredients, a variety of choices, friendly service, and a memorable overall experience for my family. The kids marketer in me is thrilled when I see a kids’ menu that acknowledges adventurous young palates—smaller portions of adult entrees (including burgers), entrée salads, ethnic flavors, and vegetarian options. I’m equally impressed when kids’ activity book content reflects kids’ natural desire to be active. And you know what? Sometimes our little gazelles and cheetahs deserve a burger. When restaurants give us choices, we continue to give them our business.

Meg Ross is a Business Development Director, writer, and mom.

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