Is Carluccio right about children’s menus?

It was with considerable relief that I read chef Antonio Carluccio’s comments this weekend about children’s menus.

Eat up - do you like children's menus?

In case you’ve not read it, he is disdainful of the whole idea of creating special menus for children. I have to agree.

Although I couldn’t say one way or another that children’s menus make them fat, as Carluccio asserts, I have long objected to the idea that you should have food that only children should eat and another, rather more sophisticated menu, that is suitable only for adults.

OK, so you might choose for your youngster – unless he/she is incredibly adventurous – a chicken vindaloo (and, to be honest, I wouldn’t choose that either) or liver and onions (ditto).

But why is there an assumption that anyone under the age of 12 wants to eat only sausage and chips, fishfingers and chips, burger and chips, or – if you are very lucky, pasta and tomato sauce?

Don’t get me wrong, I quite like fishfingers and chips, preferably homemade, but I baulk at the idea that when if we go out for a meal, my children should be offered some sub-standard fare while I enjoy something fresher, healthier (possibly) and tastier.

Of course, mine have had fishfingers, chips and peas for their tea, but that’s because I’d eat it. I’ve only ever had a policy of feeding them food I’d eat myself.

But when you go out to eat, you can’t always be sure of the quality. Have you seen how grey and mushy some of those fishfingers are? Or how revoltingly flaccid, fatty and wan-coloured those chipolatas are?

The thing about many children’s menus, I believe, and I appreciate this cannot be levelled at every restaurant or cafe, is that they perpetuate the idea of a “fussy eater”.

“Oh, Emily/Ben wouldn’t eat this food. It’s too rich, too creamy, got too many herbs, tastes of something like proper food … let her/him have the cheap sausage and chips. That’ll shut her/him up while we enjoy our organic rack of lamb and seasonal vegetables.”

No doubt there’d be a fruity drink and a scoop of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate or strawberry) to follow.

What does this attitude towards food tell our children? That we expect them to eat rubbish? That their diet doesn’t matter? And doesn’t it create an awful lot of work if you have to make a different dinner for the adults and children?

I want my children to eat what I eat. I have never given them separate meals. If they didn’t like it, so be it. I might or might not have tried it again, but as it can take up to 20 attempts for children to get a taste for something it’s likely I did until I realised they actually did hate it …

I love restaurants or cafes that offer small portions from the standard menu for youngsters or will split a main course between two plates. I don’t even mind children’s menus that offer “proper” food and look suspiciously like a plainer version of an adult dish.

But offering up chips, chips and more chips is doing them a disservice.

What do you think? Is Carluccio right to be critical of children’s menus?

And have you been anywhere that has offered children particularly good menu choices?

4 thoughts on “Is Carluccio right about children’s menus?

  1. stymaster

    Hmmm… one problem: your tastes change as you age. I could not bear many things I love today as a child. I’ve just read Stuart Maconie’s “Pies and Prejudice” in which he says the same: some dreadful junk he eat as a child (that his parents wouldn’t touch) is unbearable now. For example, a home-cooked stew or casserole used to fill me with dread: I’ll cook and eat that now, and this isn’t any criticism of my Mom’s cooking, which really is pretty good. Similarly, I used to hate the taste of beer, but love a good real ale now, and not *just* for the alcohol.

    I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have appreciated the rack of lamb when I was 10…

    I will agree that bowing too much probably produces excessively fussy eating though. Certainly in our household there were no seperate kids meals.

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  2. Kate Goodall

    I agree with you Jayne. Obviously, as a person with no children, I ought to be regarded as an expert on issues such as this.

    I suspect part of the problem is that, these days, so many parents haven’t a clue how to cook. By “cook”, I actually mean to take a mixture of raw ingredients and turn them into something probably recognisable and definitely edible. By “cook” I do not mean putting a ready meal in the microwave.

    If my argument holds any water, then we must also suppose that some kids don’t know anything other than (usually frozen not fresh) chips, chicken nuggets and baked beans. We can’t really expect kids who only know fast food to become bon viveurs on a Sunday lunchtime at the local gastro pub.

    Just to return to the chips for a moment, some years ago now, mates came round with their kids, then aged about 7 and 4. I made a lasagne, tossed some salad, heated up some bought garlic bread and made some chips. The 4 year old’s eyes were like saucers. He couldn’t get the chips down fast enough. The 7 year old, on the other hand, had already been ruined by her peers and was horrified when told the chips were home made. ” But Kate” she said “that’s just wrong”. The chips, you see, weren’t of uniform thinness, coated in salt and served in a small branded paper bag.

    Going back to the good old days, you know, when you left your door unlocked and all that, there was also something called discipline and something else called respect for your parents. I had to eat what was put in front of me. End of. When did kids start being in charge?

    It is surprising that some eateries only offer a smaller portion of a Sunday roast for kids. Why not other stuff? OK, young Tarquin might kick up a stink if he can’t have half a stuffed seabass, but why not offer smaller portions of steak or lasagne or whatever? I guess decent Italian restaurants are better at this, as you can generally have a starter or main size of pasta dish.

    And for my final moan, why do kids expect dessert all the time? I had dessert on a Sunday as a kid and that was it. Maybe that’s why I’m not fussed about sweet stuff now, I dunno. Or possibly it’s because it was often fruit salad out of a tin with evaporated milk. If the little sods don’t eat their meal, I say don’t reward them for being brats by stuffing them with ice cream!

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  3. Linda

    As a mother who has never pandered to the idea of different meals for children, I totally agree with him…and you. My children have always eaten exactly the same as I have, except for when they were wee small tots of course. If they didn’t eat what was in front of them, then I’m afraid this old fashioned mother let them go hungry until the next meal. Yup, I’m cruel and I await the social services knock at the door. The result of this is that they are very adventurous when it comes to trying new food and when we could afford it, adored the opportunities that going abroad presented. I’ve been complemented in Spain, France, Portugal, Greece and Poland by the sense of adventure the children have shown when choosing their food.
    Like all children they like their pizza, chips, burgers etc but in moderation.Equally they love squid, calamari, moussaka, stuffed peppers, sword fish and even hearts and testicles…yes they’ve tried them and liked them even if their mother cannot stand offal.
    When we have their friends over for sleepovers I dread the fussy eaters and those who have never eaten a roast or proper fish or anything that didn’t come out of a packet. It is the parents who are to blame. It’s tough love not pandering to toddler whims and tantrums. I’m glad I’m a toughie!

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  4. Jayne Post author

    Thanks for your responses – I agree that tastes change dramatically as you get older. I still remember the feeling of dread when my mum boiled a ham (bleurgh) or roasted some fish and served it with PARSLEY SAUCE (aka, wallpaper paste with some shards of green), but then if I didn’t eat it I went hungry and that was that.

    I hated cabbage (probably because it was boiled to within an inch of its life at school) and wasn’t keen on things like roasted parsnips. Now, if we ever have a “traditional” Sunday lunch, I wouldn’t consider it a proper plateful if it didn’t have either of those side dishes.

    And, Kate – I agree with the pudding thing. My two always ask what’s for pudding – I don’t know why because I don’t do them that often. They don’t think fruit is pudding (at their age, I would probably have agreed). And since I too was a child of the Seventies and was served up tinned fruit with evaporated cream, I have never been able to buy tinned peaches, pears, clementines or anything *shudders*.

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