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