Eating out – are restaurants failing children?
The last couple of days saw a report out from the Soil Association and Organix about ‘child-friendly’ (or not) restaurants (link http://www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch). If you’re someone who takes your children out to eat, then it can make interesting reading, to see how poorly even the top restaurants have scored. 21 different chains were in the study, and to be honest I’m astonished that they could all do so badly (mind you, I’ve read the methodology and if restaurants didn’t reply, they scored zero, so that would hit a score easily).
The aim of the campaign to encourage more parents to ask questions, give feedback to restaurants, and therefore persuade persuade restaurants to make changes in their provision of children’s meals.
What they want is for pubs and restaurants (those who claim to be child friendly especially) to provide the below:
- Freshly prepared food
- Free tap water on arrival
- Children’s portions of adult meals
- Children’s cutlery as standard
- Breastfeeding mums to be made welcome
Now I agree with these, surely most people would, whether they’re parents or not. However, my experience of some of the lower placed restaurants isn’t reflected in these scores.
We only ate out at Zizzi a couple of weeks ago and N had a great experience. He had his own sized cutlery (proper cutlery, not plastic stuff), he was offered water for his cup I’d brought or given the option to choose a colourful beaker. His food was pasta – it only had a tomato sauce so could probably have done with some additional veg in it for some texture, but he had some cucumber and tomatoes from my salad on the side; he had a sorbet dessert, plus dough sticks starter.
Of course, other than pasta his only choice on the children’s menu was pizza – not the healthiest, but it’s a treat meal out. Not a regular daily occurrence. And he snacks on so much fruit, with veg alongside his lunch or tea that I don’t think one meal that’s not so healthy is going to do much damage. N did try some of my pasta too as he was ogling that.
I would definitely like to see the opportunity to choose smaller portions of adult meals. I don’t always want to pay for the full children’s menu, especially if it’s restricted choices and something like pasta he would just have at home or nursery. I found at Jamie’s Italian, which came out top, that I struggled to find a suitable meal for him. Yes, it’s all well sourced and well cooked, but it’s still based on ‘children’s nursery meals whereas there were adult meals he’d have loved. I’d also like the ability to exclude drinks on a kids menu from the price/offer as N only drinks water or water with a drop of juice or squash (and that’s occasional).
To be honest though, if I felt that strongly about it, I’d demand that they provided that smaller portion for him…in this day and age, would most restaurants really refuse, when it’s so easy for them to get poor reviews, right ups and photos on social media?
For restaurants of this sort I’m not expecting locally sourced meat, where all the staff know where it’s sourced from and how sustainable it is. If I was in my local pub, I would probably want to know that the meat is from a local farmer, however eating out at chain restaurants, it’s not something I particularly request. I guess it’d be nice to know that it’s all good welfare food, and sustainably sourced, but I wouldn’t think to question it.
Would knowing about this report make me change where I might take N to eat out?
Unlikely. Our town only has a Pizza Express (probably our most likely option), McDonalds (he’s not had one yet, my OH would kill me taking him in there despite the fact their beef is British/Irish), Pizza Hut (we occasionally go with friends), Burger King (I’m not a fan), and a Frankies and Benny’s (unlikely to visit, given last time we tried without a booking, they couldn’t sit a group of us together or cater for babies/toddlers in booth seating). So we have limited options anyway. If we’re visiting elsewhere, we go to places we like the food, have a decent choice and that don’t have big queues.
If we’re eating out it’s a treat, and while I’d like corporately companies to change and improve their menus and child offer, I’m not going to sit around and not eat out while they make changes.
My take is that restaurants definitely need to look at smaller portion options for main courses – whether that be for adults wanting a small size (like a starter size) or for children. Then parents are able to judge how much their children would eat – mine will eat a half size adult portion and even at 1 ½ would eat the full children’s menu 3 courses that are meant to cater for much older children as well (really!?), but other older children who we’ve eaten out with before, haven’t finished their main course or puddings. Appropriate side options should also be included or offered – that means not leafy salad for kids menus, but proper veg that most children will eat.
Where’s your preferred place to take your children out for a meal? What’s your biggest bugbear on children’s menus?
We went to Carluccio’s last night – not a complete success but luckily we had a waitress who seemed to connect with my girls. Our 2yo was on fine form having a tantrum and throwing pencils and breadsticks all over the place but I can report that my 7yo scraped the pattern off her ice-cream bowl she liked it that much!
It does make a big difference when the children are talked to by the waiters. N loves it as half the time he just jabbers on at them, and if they’re foreign they don’t stand a lot of chance in understanding him or vice versa. We’ve not been to Carluccios, as it’s not really on my radar, but I have heard quite good things about it. I think everything (with or without kids) depends on timings, other customers, and the waiters on that day.
My heart sinks when we sit down in a restaurant, look at the kid’s menu and see chicken nuggets, fishfingers or a burger, side of mash or chips then beans or peas. She doesn’t eat that at home (because of the additives and salt content), because of this when she has been offered it elsewhere she might eat the peas and a few chips then ignore the rest. Child portions of adult meals are perfect, much more variety. One of the best eating experiences was pizza express, where she happily got stuck into dough sticks, pizza, pasta, olives, then an entire dessert to herself. The waitress gave her a balloon and some crayons. The only downside really was not having child sized cutlery (but as most places don’t, I was prepared and had some with me). It would be good not to have to do this.
PE always works for us and any other kids we’ve been out with. We’re the same with the trad kids fare – he’d usually have homemade versions at home, and if we’re eating out, we want something different as a treat, not worse food than we’d have at home. Softplay places are the worst – especially in their lunchbox options – N doesn’t eat dairylea, it usually comes as nasty white bread, he doesn’t have fruit shoots, and would only be given a few crisps so it’s not a good choice. I’ve had a few arguments with staff about swapping or not having certain things and am just told, he’ll have to have them, but leave them. what a waste.
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