It’s a truth universally acknowledged that restaurant visits with small children will involve at least one tantrum, scathing looks from fellow-diners, a lap full of food and worst of all – an uninspiring menu of chicken nuggets, chips and not much else.
A study published this week by the Soil Association has revealed what most parents had always known – that restaurants frequently fail to serve up any healthy options for kids.
Pizza Hut was the worst offending, feeding children 48 cubes of sugar in an average sitting – eight times the daily recommended limit, but Strada, Burger King and KFC also scored very low down on the list. Cafe Rouge and Frankie & Benny’s were also noted as still offering children free or discounted refills of high calorie sugary drinks as standard – something we imagine one Jamie Oliver would have a lot to say about!
Earlier research found that 40% of parents eat out with their children at least once a fortnight, but 66% of parents do not believe children’s food in restaurants is good enough. But if the idea of only feeding your children at home until they are teenagers doesn’t sound like an option (us neither), then here are the best meals available to our little diners on the UK high street…
Carluccio’s have tried hard to satisfy one essential requirement of eating out with children – keeping them entertained. By allowing children to ‘design’ their favourite pasta shapes and sauce with characters ‘Fusi’ and ‘Riggy’, their menu makes kids feel involved in their choices, therefore increasing the likelihood of them eating what they are served. We also recommend starting with the dips and sticks of carrots and cucumber, or opting for a dessert of fruit salad for a boost to their 5-a-day.
2. Pizza Express
Pizza Express is rightly hailed as a national treasure, and one of the things they do best for children is consistency. You always know what you’re children are going to be eating, which is a really underrated experience, and whilst they refer to their younger-diners as Piccolos, the menu is essentially a skeleton of the adults, so grown-up children can share in what their parents are enjoying too. The doughball starter comes with a healthy side-salad, and with a classic Margherita you cannot go wrong.
The Nandino’s menu takes a similar approach to Pizza Express with a range of well-loved chicken options, including chicken wings, drumsticks, fillet strips and a chicken burger, but the vegetarian strips with sweet potato mash and corn on the cob are the real winner for us. Get those vegetables disguised and in their tummies before they clock what they’ve been munching!
Giraffe staff are specially trained in looking after child-diners so the buggies-and-bambinos atmosphere here feels more welcoming than most. Our favourite menu selections are the Sunny Buttermilk Chicken Schnitzel and salad, or the herby pork sausage, mash and beans if you think your little ones would prefer a more familiar meal. However, you have to get here before six o’clock to sample the kid’s menu, so make sure you’re ready straight after school!
Wagamama is another one of the chains that has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to kid’s food – they’ve combined the tastes of their less-adventurous diners with those who want exactly what mum and dad are eating. Choose between their panko-bread crumbed cod cubes and rice or the mini ramen and katsu curry. They also provide special childrens chopsticks to their diners, which is, at the very least entertaining for you to watch.
6. Jamie’s Italian
After Jamie Oliver’s extensive campaigning to improve the quality of food in school canteens, and a small brood of his own, you can book a table at his Italian chain rest assured you’ll get a combination of healthy and tasty. The kid’s menu serves up delicious organic salmon – a Shetland salmon fillet with crushed new potatoes, green beans and cherry tomatoes with Jamie’s’ organic seven-veg tomato sauce. Super healthy, super tasty!