Mr. and Mrs. Morris the Elder are asked somewhat regularly how it is that our ever-growing passel of good Catholic children eat such a wide variety of foods. I have written before of how easy it is to get your child to eat well; all you have to do is (a) cook a wide variety of good foods for your kids and (b) don’t prepare short-order substitutes for them. Cook good food and serve it to them: Done and done, that’s it. But of course sometimes you’re not the one who’s cooking; sometimes you go out to eat and let someone else do it. And one way to apply the overall principles of good eating in these scenarios is to toss out the lame kid’s menu and order for your children as you would yourself.
Kid’s menus, of course, tend to be universally boring and crummy: Their mainstays are dry chicken fingers, plain hamburgers, tasteless macaroni, spaghetti with some watery marinara dumped over it like a bucket of horse blood. This is bummer food; it excites none of the primal senses and inspires none of the responsible Dionysian pleasure that good food ideally begets. For some reason everyone thinks this is the only kind of food kids can handle, like serving them a lentil salad or a croque madame would make them come apart at the seams. It’s insulting to kids and honestly it’s just sort of cosmically insulting overall, a waste of a good meal. You only get so many of those.
Throw away the kid’s menu and order for your kids from the normal menu. Yes, the portions will be larger; put the leftovers in their bento box for tomorrow’s lunch. Yes, the food will be more complex; that’s good, you want your kids eating complex food, not boring stuff. A bit of practical advice: One way to facilitate good eating with kids is to explain to them why a food is good. American food culture seems to dictate that we try and persuade our kids to eat for any reason but pleasure: We tell them, “Your vegetables are good for you!” or “You need your strength!” or, “No dessert unless you eat your spinach!” But we never tell kids, “Feel how the scallion white crunches between your teeth—isn’t that great?” or, “Can you taste how the sour lime and the sweet yogurt come together on your tongue? Mmm.” That sort of thing makes kids co-conspirators in the best parts of food, and it helps them understand why it’s so important to prepare food well and eat it with pleasure.
You’re not going to accomplish that by serving them lukewarm grilled cheese and mealy apple slices, either at home or in a restaurant. Serve kids the same food you eat; they deserve as much. The next time a waiter asks you, “Would you like a children’s menu?” you should scrunch up your face, look puzzled, and exclaim, “Huh? Why on Earth would we want that?” Nah, don’t really do that, they’ll spit in your food if you do. Just be normal about it.
In Savannah some years back, friends and I went to a restaurant where meals were served genuine 'family style.' You waited in line--a long one, and outside--and when you got inside your party and a number of other people were seated at a large round or oblong table seating 8 or 10 or so. Then servers brought out bowls of steaming delicious food: fried chicken, pulled pork, corn bread, collards, corn on the cob, etc., and you took some and passed the bowls. There was lively conversation and no waste--sensible food safety standards dictated the food from the bowls would be reheated ONCE and re-served and I think that's just fine. There was no waste that I saw. People took modest servings and ate everything and felt free to take a bit more. Kids were there too and did the same, under parental guidance. We need restaurants like that!