Monday, August 17, 2009

Care and Feeding of the Young

So... we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. Perhaps you've heard something about it? In my own town, the school district has decreed that there can be only one birthday party a month and that is the only day on which sugary treats may be had. I don't disagree with that policy (and considering the health statistics that are out there for kids in our area it would be hard to disagree) but I want more.

I'm working with a tiny number of staff and parents in my kids' schools to encourage biking and walking to school, but, beyond that, I would like to challenge restaurants to do better. Subway has apple slices and milk. Taco Bell has bean and cheese burritos. Okay, fine, but I realized the other night as I sat in an independent, non-fast food restaurant that "kids' menus" generally really suck. It feels like it doesn't matter where I go, there will be, for a couple of bucks, the following options for the precious small humans in my care: hot dog, hamburger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, mac 'n cheese (Kraft-style), and spaghetti with meatballs/sauce. All served with a side of fries and a soda. Even my children, who love mac 'n cheese and grilled cheese, sigh at the lack of choices.

Since I have two kiddos, one might think they could split an "adult" menu item and that would be about right in portion and price. Yeah, it would, but we don't live in a world where siblings can agree on pizza toppings, let alone an entree. So here is what I want: I want the option to order kid-sized portions of the 'real' food that that a restaurant makes. If you are a Mexican joint that has awesome potato tacos (and locals know who I'm thinking of here!), let my kids order a plate and get one taco with beans and rice instead of three. You get the idea. C'mon, if they were going to eat PB & J, I could have stayed home!

This whole rant was actually inspired by a place that I went to today with the kids for lunch. I was happy to see (at first) that this chain restaurant had not-a-one of the typical items I listed above. But then I realized that what they do for kids is take "real" menu items and remove the vegetables and add chicken! When our food came (I had managed to get tofu subbed for the chicken), the kids' eyes drifted longingly from their plates of brown lo mein with brown tofu chunks to my plate with its vibrant and substantial ring of perfectly steamed broccoli. I shared, of course, and we were all happy enough (though we probably met our sodium intake for the month after just this one meal!) but I'm annoyed at the assumption that the way to appeal to kids is to feed them minimal variety devoid of the most nutritionally beneficial foods.

So, I guess I'm launching my own "double V" campaign. V for vegetables and V for variety for all of us. I'm going to start with my local joints, of course. Join me?

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