With Everything Going on, Why Are People Bickering About Kids’ Menus of All Things?

updated Feb 24, 2021
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Mother and daughter ordering in restaurant
Credit: Blend Images - Inti St Clair/Getty Images

“I know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect,” wrote author Jill Filipovic on Twitter yesterday. She then declared that “I am 100% sure I will never assent to a ‘kid’s menu’ or the concept of ‘kid food.’”

I don’t know if this is just the misplaced meanderings of a mind missing restaurants or a hope for an improved world when we emerge from all this. But there’s a pandemic, protests, and election chaos happening right now — there is so much out there to be annoyed by and to use a huge platform to complain about. The kids’ menu should not be one of them.

As a food writer and someone who, prior to the pandemic, ate multiple meals each week in restaurants, I understand her sentiment: No one wants to feed their kid nothing but chicken fingers and french fries. But I also have the sneaking suspicion that the same people who think this way are the folks who complain about crying babies as planes take off; they are out of touch with the realities of children. You see, despite having more than 100 pounds on them, being in possession of actual logic, and perhaps even the persuasiveness of a champion debater, you cannot convince a child to do anything they don’t want to do.

My kids like restaurants and have been going to them, in the case of my older daughter, since she was three days old. But as one respondent pointed out, “Parenting is a constant triumph of practicality over principle.” Much of the time when we go out to eat, we go places that serve food family-style and the question of a kids’ menu is moot — they can eat as much or as little as they’d like from whichever of the dishes they’d like. Other times, like at a Tex-Mex restaurant with enormous portions, I’ll order something a little larger than I might and let them pick out from my rice, beans, and enchiladas as much as they’d like. At a favorite restaurant where prices are reasonable, I might let them nibble an adult-sized entrée on the basis that I get to try another dish and we can take home the leftovers.

But sometimes none of this applies and they just want the crayons to color the placemat and to point to the macaroni and cheese. While parenting requires many compromises and difficult decisions, this is not one of them.

Parenting is about picking battles, and the relationship between my kid having a rough behavior day and me thinking “I would like to eat a meal I do not need to cook or clean up from” is tightly woven. The chance that I have a reservation that I am looking forward to on the day that my child decides that being forced to wear a shirt is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to her is — history shows — extremely likely. 

Perhaps the person who Tweeted this opinion plans to leave her children with a babysitter each time she eats in a restaurant, but that carries its own problems of logistics and a hefty price tag. And you still have to plan and (depending on the timing and babysitter) prepare dinner!

While parenting requires many compromises and difficult decisions, this is not one of them

Thus, I can either stay home or go and do what it takes to make the meal enjoyable for me. I have done the former and it sucks, but I also don’t feel like my family’s temporary disfunction should ruin anyone else’s night. The latter inevitably involves the children’s menu: my kids, who frankly don’t eat much more of their plain quesadilla than they do of a much fancier one at twice the cost, are excited to get the kind of food they don’t usually get at home. I pay $8 for their placidity (about the same as 15 minutes of babysitting), get to come off as the hero, and have purchased myself an enjoyable night at a restaurant, and maybe even having a full conversation with my partner while someone else pours my wine.

Also, while I’m not sure where Ms. Filipovic lives, a thing I have learned in my not-quite-five years as a parent who eats out often for both work and pleasure: Kids’ meals are not always or the barren wasteland of yesteryear. I’ve been known to steal from my kids’ plates when they get the off-menu kid’s option of butter-drenched potato-Parmesan gnocchi at our neighborhood steakhouse. At Salare, dad and star chef Edouardo Jordan made sure the small set eat well with dishes like chicken with einkorn, Swiss chard, and Empire apples. 

This is not a choice between your kid eating only chicken fingers and you being a good person. This is more like if you modified the old saying “fast, cheap, good,” and you get to pick two, to be “easy, acceptable, enjoyable,” you can have all three as long as you’re okay with getting off your high horse for an evening.