I Refuse to Order Meals Off the Kids’ Menu. Here’s Why.

When my family goes out to eat, I’ll happily accept the booster seat, crayons, special placemat and plastic cup for my toddler. But when the kids’ menu arrives, I pretend it doesn’t exist.

See, kids’ menus go against everything I love about restaurant meals: Trying new foods, sharing the experience with my family and pretending for one blissful hour that we’re all above throwing macaroni on the floor. Plus, while some kids’ menus may offer pint-sized versions of a local specialty or catch of the day, most resort to the same old chicken fingers, grilled cheese and hot dogs (which, don’t get me wrong, my kid totally loves).

So what does our son eat? Miniature portions of whatever we’re having—just like at home. And here are seven reasons I’m committed to this plan.

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young girl eating at restaurant
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1. It Saves Food

Restaurant portion sizes in America are huge! When was the last time you went out to eat and saw a kid actually finish his chicken tenders and fries…or the last time you finished all your own food, for that matter? (At least, without feeling crappy later that night.)

When my husband and I share our food instead of ordering something for our son, we’re less likely to waste food or over-eat out of guilt. Win-win.

2. It Saves Money

Depending on where you dine, an entrée on the kids’ menu can cost anywhere from $4 to $12…usually for something you could make yourself at home for 23 cents. Sharing from our own plates saves a little cash—or as I like to call it, ice cream money.

young boy eating at restaurant
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3. It Gives Us More Time to Enjoy Our Meal

Kids’ menu items generally arrive at the same time as everyone else’s appetizers: meaning your kids scarf down whatever they’re going to eat, then spend the rest of the meal trying to break into the kitchen or get behind the bar.

Sharing our food, on the other hand, gives us the flexibility to regulate our son’s intake so he doesn’t fill up before we do. On a good night, we can spend up to two hours enjoying our meal—as long as we bring along a decently stocked “busy bag” and don’t mind reading books, playing with toys and maybe going for a cruise around the restaurant between courses.

4. It Teaches Table Manners

Burgers, hot dogs, fish sticks: When kids eat only finger foods, we miss the opportunity to teach them the art of using utensils in public. Although our tot is nowhere close to being a tidy eater (I had to clean jam out of his hair this morning), I like to think we’re giving him valuable “hands-on” experience when we bring his tiny fork and spoon to restaurants and let him practice eating grown-up food like a grown-up. Hopefully he’ll make one hell of a date someday.

child and mother sharing meals
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5. It Discourages Picky Eating…

I get it—some kids just have a natural aversion to certain foods. But I feel like our national insistence that children can only enjoy bland, salty and/or breaded entrées isn’t helping.

6. It Encourages Experimentation and Adventure

I love the look on my son’s face when he falls in love with a new food. Because we’ve exposed him to a wide variety of foods from a young age, he’ll try anything, including liver, sushi and raw onions. We have yet to find something he refuses to eat.

Kids are naturally experimental, and they naturally imitate their parents’ behaviors. My son mimics my movements when I sing The Itsy-Bitsy Spider and uses my exact same inflection when saying “yeah!” So if I’m eating oxtail tacos, wouldn’t it follow that he’d want to eat oxtail tacos, too?

7. It Brings Me Joy

I love eating. I love trying new foods. And I love sharing the experience with my son. If I’m enjoying the heck out of a squid ink linguini with razor clams, nothing makes me happier than seeing my joy mirrored on his face…which may or may not be covered in squid ink.

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Freelance PureWow Editor