What’s the Deal with Kids’ Menus?

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If it makes you crazy to see so much processed food on the kids’ menu at restaurants, you’re not alone. I’ve often asked myself, "why can’t they serve adult food in kid-sized servings?"

The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) is taking a stand. Their recent position paper in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior states “there is no difference between healthful foods for adults and for children aged 2 and up, except for age-appropriate adjustments in texture and portion size.”

Pamela Rothpletz-Puglia, EdD, RD of the School of Health Professions, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey notes, "If you think about kids' food, the archetype or terminology that we widely use to describe the food that we feed our children, it's really a social norm or societal construct that we've perpetuated."

The definition of "kids’ food" is food that is likely to be eaten by children between the ages of 2 and 14 at home or in the community. A long-held assumption in the US is that kids need different food than adults. 

Many of these foods are ultra-processed, high in calories, saturated fats, and added sugars. Long-term intake of these foods can be harmful to children’s tastes and preferences. It may exacerbate fear of new foods and picky eating behaviors and could negatively affect their future health as well.

The authors of the position paper note that the assumption that kids need different foods than adults may have started during the alcohol prohibition era, when the restaurant industry made children’s menus to offset loss of income from alcohol sales. Kids’ food and menus have become the social norm, though it’s known that children can eat healthy food like adults. Ultra-processed foods like hot dogs, mini pizzas, French fries, and chicken nuggets persist on menus, are the social norm, and are highly palatable to kids.

So, what can we do about it? Check out the post Changing the Way Kids Eat: A Dietitian's Guide for an action plan.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Journal Reference:

  1. Pamela Rothpletz-Puglia, Lynn Fredericks, Margaret Rush Dreker, Rachael Patusco, Jane Ziegler. Position of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior: Healthful Food for Children is the Same as AdultsJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2022; 54 (1): 4 DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2021.09.007
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