Handing it to Kids: Chicken Fingers

chicken fingersI must preface this blog entry with the admission that I do have one box of dinosaur nuggets in my freezer. After all, there are nights when we are running out to a tennis match or soccer practice, and I need to get something in Luke’s stomach fast, before he goes psychotic from low blood sugar. I prefer to serve him grilled chicken breast strips for the slacker-mom-fast-dinner-fix (which are almost impossible to find anywhere except Costco), but I occasionally cave and offer the food that is more fun and festive to eat. After all, as parents know, sometimes something less than optimal is better than no food at all.

But here’s what I find perplexing and disappointing. Why do 99% of restaurants in America have the same items listed on the kids menu? According to a great article by Nutrition Unplugged, the top 10 kids’ menu items have remained virtually unchanged since 2005.

  1. Chicken fingers
  2. Grilled cheese sandwich
  3. Macaroni and cheese
  4. Burger
  5. Hot dog
  6. Cheeseburger
  7. Cheese pizza
  8. Corn dog
  9. Pizza
  10. Spaghetti

Is that the epitome of good health or what? And this list refrains to mention that in six of the above cases, these fine entrées are served with French fries. No wonder kids get develop unhealthy eating habits at a young age. And bad habits are hard to break, as we old folks know too well.

Earlier this summer, on another glorious weekend to Sun Valley, our family ate at this wonderful Thai restaurant calledGlobus. We walked in and got a bit concerned because it was a little quiet for a 5 year old and his occasional outbursts about farts and poop (which are quickly moving from the “occasional” category to the “constant” one). But we also weren’t sure if they’d have any not-so-spicy food that Luke would eat. When we asked our waitress, she replied, “We don’t have a kids menu, but we could serve him some grilled chicken, rice and steamed broccoli.” I almost got up from the table and hugged her. Not only was I thrilled to avoid fried food for my little bubs, but this is a meal he actually enjoys more than most of the items listed above. He ate almost the entire meal without any prodding (a rarity).

I admit there are meals I cook which I know Luke won’t like – such as spicy Thai food, blackened fish or quinoa salads. But I am actually surprised at the variety of things he likes if he only tries. For example, he loves fish, especially salmon and milder white fishes like snapper and cod. He eats pork pretty much any way I fix it (though I refer to it as chicken and he doesn’t seem to know the difference). He’ll eat beef till the cows come home, especially expensive cuts like tenderloin (he is developing good taste at a young age).  And he loves chicken as long as he can remove “the green stuff” (aka spices like thyme).

He doesn’t love every vegetable, like most grown-ups, but broccoli, or “trees,” is a favorite. He’ll try asparagus, salads with “cream dressing” (aka ranch), carrots, peas (especially when he helps pick them out of the garden) and cauliflower. I even got him to have a bite of Brussel sprouts last night, though he didn’t like them at all (nor does his dad, so how mad can a mom get). Last but not least, he likes the “brown” potatoes (aka sweet ones) a lot more than Idaho potatoes, even though we live in Boise.  In fact, he simply doesn’t eat French fries if served them when we’re out for dinner.

I guess my theory is that kids will eat better foods if we serve it to them – at home or out. And reinforcement of unhealthy alternatives, pretty much forced on them by eating establishments everywhere (including schools), is helping pave the way to clogged arteries, extra pounds and a lack of needed nutrients and vitamins. They are developing a pallet for foods they don’t need to eat.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m working on it. The article above suggests that restaurants are starting to offer better-for-you options for kids. I suppose this is a good start.

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.

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