Award-winning San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins wishes American restaurants would take a page – a menu page – from their counterparts in other parts of the world and make available more healthy food for kids.
“The United States is one of the only places in the world that has special meals for kids,” she said. “We are conditioned to teach kids to eat differently than we do and that is a mistake.” This is especially true when kids’ menus are not only pedestrian, but unhealthy, serving up processed fat-laden dishes like macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers.
Des Jardins isn’t alone in her quest. First Lady Michelle Obama famously has made combatting childhood obesity and encouraging a healthier lifestyle one of her signature issues through her White House initiative called Let’s Move!. Mrs. Obama told Taking the Kids that “I’d encourage families to pick activities – no matter where you’re visiting – that involve getting active, whether it’s walking, biking or anything else you find fun.” This is especially true during holiday breaks, when a healthier vacation includes staying active and eating better.
Thankfully, a growing number of hotel chains are getting the message too, including Hyatt, Fairmont and JW Marriott, all of which have revamped their kids’ menus to make them healthier with less fat and sugar, as well as prepared with locally sourced foods. At Fairmont hotels, kids can even eat for half price when ordering from the adult menu. Many resorts now offer family cooking classes as well, including the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, where the chef takes families with him to the local farmer’s market and returns to prepare a dish or two. Omni’s Sensational Kids program includes backpacks for visiting kids complete with nutrition themed games to promote healthy eating.
For her part, chef Des Jardins, the mother of a teen, currently runs a diverse group of popular San Francisco restaurants, such as the Commissary and Arguello, both in the Presidio, a different kind of national park operated by the Presidio Trust in partnership with the National Parks Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
I can’t think of a better place to go after a hike than Arguello, where you can sit outside and feast on jicama and avocado salad and grilled shrimp tacos while the kids have a quesadilla or refried bean and cheese burrito. “We see a lot of families,” Des Jardins said.
The trend is even evident at ski resorts too. Keystone in Colorado, a Vail Resort, for example, has initiated the National Restaurant Association’s Kids Live Well Initiative designed to get kids to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting fat, sugar and sodium. At Keystone’s Mountain House base lodge that might mean a chicken taco or teriyaki chicken noodle bowl.
Even in Orlando, where many people think – wrongly – that there are few choices beyond fast food, kids increasingly can eat well – and healthy – wherever they are. At The Boathouse in the new Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), kids can get a side of carrot sticks or seasonal fruit instead of fries and can make their own tacos from grilled fish or chicken, for example.
In fact, if you order a kid’s meal at any Disney park, you get apples instead of fries (unless you ask for fries) and low-fat milk rather than sugary soda. Now Disney is enhancing these efforts by further reducing sodium in kids’ meals and introducing new well-balanced kids’ breakfast meals, part of an effort to spread the use of allergy-friendly menus at 120 quick-serve and table-service restaurants.
But in Orlando as elsewhere, you still find too many places where the kids menus are fat-laden and resorts’ kids-eat-free deals limit children to those menus. I’ve stopped writing about them.
How about expanding those kids-free offerings while encouraging families to order half portions for half price? It’s about time.
Eileen Ogintz writes the syndicated column Taking the Kids and is the creator of TakingtheKids.com and the author of the Kid’s Guide series to major American cities. The third edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released and her latest book, The Kid’s Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is due out on May 1.
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