April 24, 2018

Chicken fingers, grilled cheese, hot dogs, noodles with butter. These items are staples of kids menus, even in many otherwise upscale restaurants that don’t offer similar items for adult eaters. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying comfort foods, but such dishes can become boring for chefs, parents and even kids.

Students attending chef school in Colorado should consider how they can make some of their personal favorite dishes palatable for young customers. This approach not only means more fulfilling work in the kitchen – no more microwaving hot dogs – it also helps kids expand their horizons and start enjoying a broader variety of foods.

Child eating dinner at restaurant.Kids can eat and enjoy a variety of foods.

Adding a touch of sophistication to kids menus

Some children, whether through personal taste or the efforts of the adults around them, already have well-rounded tastes and are comfortable eating many different dishes – even though they may end up taking much of an adult-sized portion home. Others are extremely picky and it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to appeal to them with any foods outside of a few they’re totally comfortable with. Your efforts to build a better kids menu should focus on the young eaters in the middle – those who might be apprehensive or unsure about trying a new food, but aren’t totally against the idea of moving beyond pizza and French fries.

One of the easiest ways to start is by identifying items currently on your menu that could easily be adapted in terms of taste, texture and portion size for younger eaters. While a pungent fish dish or a dinner that focuses on complex, bitter or especially strong flavors likely aren’t good choices for adaptation, you can surely find a few good candidates. Everything from roasted or pulled chicken to fish fillets and a wide variety of pastas and vegetable dishes can fit the bill, as can many different beef and pork dishes.

In some cases, you can simply reduce the amount of food on the plate. In others, you might want to make the dish a little less advanced by cutting back on seasoning or spiciness to better appeal to the more sensitive palates of kids. In both situations, you should test your food whenever possible. It’s likely that you or at least one of the other employees at your restaurant has children, so try to organize a tasting session to get some feedback.

If you’re crafting entirely new dishes for young diners, consider keeping the most flavorful elements of the meal on the side. This is a way to both expose kids to new tastes and let them decide how much of an unfamiliar flavor they want to incorporate into each bite. A more familiar pasta or protein can serve as the base and offer an element of familiarity to help calm any fears about a new food. Instead of having to dive into the experience head first, they can get their proverbial feet wet and expose themselves to unfamiliar ingredients gradually.

The overall experience of your restaurant is also important for encouraging kids to try new foods. Even as you offer menu items that are more engaging than pasta and butter, make sure kids can feel comfortable and, if possible, have crayons and paper or another simple, inexpensive activity to keep them engaged, happy and occupied as they wait for their food.

A more refined kids menu is an ambitious goal, but with this advice and a little hard work, you can offer a variety of delicious and exciting meals to all customers.