Chicken nuggets, sausages and Nutella pancakes seem to be the only kids’ options on many menus. A baby bowl with plenty of salty gravy is another staple, but there are those who are bucking the trend.
As a mother with three children aged 9, 6 and 9 months, I have had plenty of experience of kids’ menus across Ireland and I have definitely seen an effort being made by some - but not enough. I try to encourage my children to try new things but when the norm is frozen chicken nuggets and sausages, it can be difficult. Often I ask for starters for them because they are usually more interesting and nutritious.
We eat out a lot and I get frustrated at the lack of choice in many places. My nearest town is Tuam in Co. Galway. Until relatively recently, it was impossible to get anything more than soup mostly made from powder, chips and the inevitable chicken nuggets.
Geraldine McGann from Clonberne, Co. Galway has two children aged 7 and 5. They eat out as a family at least once a week. She says she finds there is a real lack of healthy options on many kids’ menus.
“The recommendation is seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but if you are faced with sausage and chips you don’t even get one.
“It is difficult to get the children to try something healthy when they see the chips and the nuggets and I realise that they are a cheaper option in an industry where it is hard to make money, but I would prefer half portions of adult dinners and pay a little bit extra.”
Helen Calvey from Achill, Co. Mayo, also has two children, one of whom follows a gluten free diet.
“It is always chicken nuggets and sausages,” she says.
“Because one of my children is gluten free, we often get the roast of the day for her if offered which is great because at least it is healthy.
“A lot of time, they forget about children who are gluten intolerant and they end up with fries because they are cooked separately. I am not impressed by the standard fare.”
One of those who firmly refuses to go down the chicken nugget route is Damien Cosgrove from Leaf and Bean café in Tuam. It opened two years ago.
“This place is all about healthy eating and cooking to order,” he says.
“Lots of our customers are families and we decided that we needed a dedicated kids’ menu fairly early on.
“We experimented with a few different options over a few months but the menu now consists of ham and cheese toasties on sourdough, quesadillas which are tomato sauce and cheese in a toasted wrap, a small soup and brown bread, sausages and toast, and apple slices and peanut butter.
“The best seller is the toastie but I keep the others on to have the choice. I just won’t serve chicken nuggets and chips. If people want that, they can go somewhere else.”
Also in Tuam is Gather restaurant, which has won awards for its family friendly atmosphere and healthy kids’ menus. Head Chef Siobhan Flaherty makes fish goujons with sustainable fish and serves them with green vegetables and mash. Children can also have pasta with in-house Bolognese sauce or meatballs and pancakes.
“Having kids ourselves, we think it is so important when dining out in a restaurant, which is often seen as a treat, that it is nice to know that your children are getting quality products,” says Siobhan.
“This is why we only use free range chicken and pork on the kids menu and beef from a reputable source such as Brady’s in Athenry.
“The chicken goujons and meatballs would be our most popular dishes. Pancakes are particularly popular at brunch and the flourless chocolate cake is always a treat after dinner.”
Eddie Attwell, Head Chef at Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff, Co. Cork says it can be an uphill struggle to get children to try something different. He joined the hotel in spring and it is undergoing an extensive refurbishment.
“This is very much a holiday, seasonal resort, so people want treat food. The kids menu is fairly standard. We do chicken goujons and mini fish and chips but they are made from scratch. I also do soup, again made from scratch, sausage and chips, and melon and fruit salad.
“Unfortunately, that’s what sells. A kids’ main course is €8.50.
“You do get the other end of the spectrum though where a ten year old girl came in over the summer and asked to cook a mackerel she had just caught. I gutted it and we stuck it on the grill. It was great.”