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Stephen Jardine: Children’s menu needs to grow up

The Scran and Scallie has no specific kids' offering but, instead, serves smaller portions from the main menu. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The Scran and Scallie has no specific kids' offering but, instead, serves smaller portions from the main menu. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

WHAT we eat has changed significantly down the years – and so has how we eat it. A new report out this week revealed that a third of Scottish four-year-olds have their main meal in a room not associated with eating.

In other words, they eat in bedrooms or in front of the television set.

Sadly, when children eat away from the table it’s often a different meal to that eaten by their parents and frequently it will be less nutritious.

We’ve all been there. When a toddler is screaming and refusing to eat fish pie, the desire for some peace and quiet at the end of a long day makes it all too easy to sit them in another room with a plate of their favourite spaghetti hoops.

Doing that leaves parents feeling guilty, but is there any other impact?

The new study, for the journal Sociology of Health and Illness, concluded that there is a good dietary reason for children to eat with adults. “Children are nutritionally better off eating the same food as parents,” the report said.

Of course, fighting that battle isn’t helped by the choices faced outside the home. By that, I’m talking about the dreaded children’s menu.

Jamie Oliver brought about the demise of Bernard Matthews’ Turkey Twizzlers, but commercial catering for children is still the home of some of the worst offences in the food crime statistics.

From hot dogs to chicken nuggets, the choice for children in many eating-out establishments is, frankly, disgraceful. I wouldn’t eat what is served up to kids. So why should we expect children to put up with it?

Thankfully, things are changing. One of the major pub restaurant chains 
now includes calories and nutritional value on their kids menu, as well as offering parents the chance to review the meals online.

Research suggests that children’s tastes do change as they mature, but that doesn’t mean they have to start life with the worst we have to offer. Some chefs have now decided that the best way to achieve that is by getting rid of the children’s menu altogether.

Tom Kitchin’s new pub and eating house in Edinburgh is designed to be child-friendly to the extent that, it’s even in the name. The Scran and Scallie has no specific kids’ offering but, instead, serves smaller portions from the main menu.

“The fish and chips and pork belly have been favourites, but we’ve had children eating the snails and crab claws,” Tom told me. “As a chef, there is no better feeling than seeing the look of joy as children devour your food and try new things”.

If restaurants can do one thing to help parents at home, it would be to persuade children that good food doesn’t need to be orange, and it can be what the grown ups eat.

 

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