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Laurie's Turn to Dish: Where are the Veggies on the Kid's Menu?

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

by Laurie Zuckerman, co-author, The Fattening of America


When it comes to monitoring my kids' eating habits, I have to admit that I'm slightly less obsessive than Eric. (I'm still fainting that he let Max eat FOUR Krispy Kremes - see blog below). Still, I was pretty psyched when I went to the Valentine's Day party at my daughter's school and saw that Yana was the only kindergartenerthere who opted for a cup of water. The rest of the kids were quite literally drinking the Kool Aid. (Yana did have two cookies and a pile of chips in front of her you can't win em' all.)

But one place I've found I can rarely win is a restaurant. Have you ever wondered why the junkiest food on the menu "especially in nicer restaurants" is housed under the kid's menu? The choices are typically a plate of fried food, a burger, a hot dog or a pile of pasta. (Macaroni Grill's Kid's Double Mac and Cheese, by the way, has a whopping 1,210 calories.)

I actually have no problem with Yana eating the occasional hot dog or French fry. And I'm a sucker for mac and cheese myself. But it does get under my skin that only very rarely does a kid's meal come with any fruits or vegetables.

Why is that? Is there a perception that America's kids are vegetable phobic? Well, maybe. Think about the tremendous success of books like Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef.

I don't know if I just have an unusual kid, but Yana never complains when she seessome veggies on her dinner plate. Yes, right there in plain view, not pureed and hidden away in her chicken nuggets. (My baby is still on strained carrots and Cheerios, but I'm hoping, though not necessarily expecting, he will someday follow his big sister's good example.)

Because I do my best to include some fruits or veggies in every meal, I tend to get a little peeved when we eat out and the inevitable plate of fried food is served up veggie free. Of course, I could have ordered for Yana from the regular menu. In fact, sometimes I do, but both the cost and the portion size always strike me as a little out of hand.

So what gives? Are the chefs, in fact, just responding to their customer's demands? (Remember the example in Fattening of what happened when Ruby Tuesday's downsized some of their portions? Customers were furious, and sales dropped.) So would customers complain if some veg appeared on their kid's plates? What if the costs of the kid's menu items went up?


Personally, I would be more than happy to pay a bit more to get some more greens in my kids it's an option I usually choose when it's offered on the side. But am I the typical customer? Or do the chefs (and restaurant corporations) have it right? Do they know their target market? Are Americans really so veggie phobic? You tell me.

The Fattening of America
How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It
by Eric A. Finkelstein & Laurie Zuckerman

Copyright © 2008 Eric A. Finkelstein & Laurie Zuckerman