Eating out with the littles is fun (mostly) but trying to find something on a kid’s menu that isn’t bread-crumbed, deep fried to oblivion and devoid of any nutrition can be a challenge. Yes, okay the tots might not mind (French fries are just fine by them) and we’d all prefer not to battle over eating greens while out – but actually the assumption that children prefer to eat tasteless fried stuff while their parents tuck into a juicy steak is just insulting – don’t our little darlings deserve better?! Not only do we want our kiddos to enjoy the social aspect of eating out (sans food fights) but also to understand that not all restaurant food has to be beige, that vegetables aren’t evil and that when we were young we had to eat what we were given or go hungry (okay, maybe not that last part – but we did just fine without kids menus, right?)!
At Sassy Mama we’re always searching for the perfect family eatery – somewhere with a menu that’s just as exciting for mama as it is for the smalls. So an initiative by the Jumeirah Restaurant Group to get children involved in re-designing healthy kids menus at 19 of their outlets and create mini gourmands had us signing our minis up as junior food critics in a flash. One lovely winter’s afternoon, 5 Sassy Mamas and 12 kiddos headed to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel for a tasting of scrummy homemade food overseen by Head Chef Ben (of The Ivy fame).
Things didn’t get off to the best start: A chocolate fountain bubbling on the buffet table in the background was more than a small distraction, and getting 12 kids under the age of seven to sit still, not climb on or under tables and wait, patiently, was a challenge in itself! But, aprons on, score-cards at the ready and a 7 course tasting menu of delicious (if not ambitious) dishes in front of us (YIKES), the meal began with chicken salad served with cucumber and cherry tomato, followed by potato gnocchi with creamy mushroom sauce. The salad got mixed reviews – “the chicken is yummy but I don’t like tomatoes”, though it went down much better than expected! And the gnocchi was a complete winner – “I give it eleven out of ten” and “it’s soft and yummy can you make it at home please, mama?”. only one little diner complained about the use of “green sprinkles” (parsley)…
Dish after dish was presented to the kids who loved trying everything and obviously weren’t shy about offering their opinions (don’t you just love that innocent honesty?!). Poached ‘catch of the day’ with seasonal veg, ‘sweet and sour chicken with rice’, ‘Dahi Papdi Chaat’ with sweet yoghurt and ‘salmon with mashed potatoes, baby spinach, raisins and pine-nuts’ – they tried them all. And you know what? The response was amazing. These were dishes kids wouldn’t normally be eating in restaurants but that were (mostly) going down a storm – as was our genuine interest in their feedback on what they thought was ‘yummy’ or ‘yuk’ (thank you Chef for taking it all so well!).
More like mini versions off an adult menu, each dish put nuggets and chips to shame and spared our kids (and us) the breaded, deep-fried usual suspects. And the dessert? A ‘cake’ made of beautifully cut fruit that was devoured as if it were the real thing (we hear there’ll also be homemade vegetable-juice lollipops available at Rib Room!).
Ok so this delicious get-together didn’t stop our kiddos attacking the chocolate fountain after their meal, but it did teach us, and the Jumeirah Restaurant Group gang, that what children really love is flavour and that our little ones actually have pretty discerning palates.
Changing 25 kiddie menus takes time but the Jumeirah Restaurant Group are working through every one of the kiddie feedback forms to implement healthy changes throughout their outlets. And we say a huge HOORAY to that. Thank you so much to Chef Ben for such a fun afternoon, for letting the kids jump all over you (literally) and for listening to everything they had to say. As Cliffy Archibold, aged 7 put it “eating with my friends and playing was my favourite – mashed potato and chocolate fountain were my favourite and the chocolate fountain… And the chocolate fountain…. And the chocolate fountain…”!
Maybe you could include a chocolate fountain?
Time to revamp kiddie mealtime, mamas!