Beyond the kids menu

Bupa Dietitian Gemma Cosgriff shares her tips on making healthy choices from kids' menus.

Most cafes and restaurants offer a kids’ menu, but these menus are usually full of fried foods, with soft drinks and ice-cream thrown into the fixed-price.

How can you hope to feed your child nutritious food? We look at some healthier options when dining out with kids.

Most menus will feature a burger, a fried option – chicken nuggets, schnitzel or battered fish – or a pasta dish.

If the burger is simply a bun with good-quality mincemeat for the patty, and some salad wedged between, you’re looking okay. It’s often the toppings that force the dish into the unhealthy zone. When you add processed cheese, lashings of barbecue or tomato sauce and fried bacon, there’s a whole lot of energy but not much nutritional value in the dish.
 
Fried foods are a saturated-fat feast, in which oil of dubious origins is soaked up into the batter or coating of the ingredients. 

Bupa Dietitian Gemma Cosgriff advises, “When ordering protein dishes, choose between grilled, poached or pan-fried, rather than deep-fried, and go for the tomato-based sauces rather than the cream-based sauces.”
mother and daughter eating japanese
Delving deeper, it’s also what’s underneath the batter that counts. Chicken nuggets can be a mystery package of all kinds of chicken off-cuts, while battered fish can be cheaper species that are potentially unsustainable catches.
 
If the fish is not battered before ordering, ask if the chef can grill or steam it as a better option for your child’s nutrition. The same goes for chicken, but it’s more likely that these items have been pre-coated in a breadcrumb concoction. If going fried is the path of least resistance, Cosgriff recommends ordering a few salad or vegetable dishes with sauces or dressings on the side.
 
If there’s nothing on the kids’ menu that’s right for your kids, you can always request that the kitchen adapts a more nutritious dish from the adult menu. If they have steamed vegetables and chicken on the menu, for example, ask that they knock up a smaller portion, or even a vegie pasta. The quality of your kids’ meals will then hopefully mirror that of the adults’.
 
"The best style of restaurant to eat out at with children is one that offers share plates," Cosgriff says. Presenting a wide variety of options means you give the children a choice and you all get to partake in the meal." 
 
Eating out is a good opportunity to encourage your children to be adventurous, so why not get them to try something new?
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