Traditional Vs. Updated Children’s Meals

Traditional: Bubba's Road House
Bubba’s Roadhouse in Cape Coral, Florida, serves up a traditional children’s menu that features burgers, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, BBQ ribs and fried shrimp. Jay Johnson is the restaurant’s owner.
Grown-Up: True Food
True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach, California, offers unusual items on its children’s menu. Small diners can opt for a chicken teriyaki bowl, a small chopped salad and baked ziti with tomato sauce, spinach and mozzarella. Executive chef Michael Stebner explains the menu.
Can you explain your kids’ menu strategy?
We call ourself a family steakhouse and without a strong kids’ menu that would not be possible. So we have a fairly large kids’ menu while still showcasing some of our signature items just in kids’ sizes: BBQ ribs, hand-cut steaks and shrimp. In addition the kids’ menu stops the veto vote from the kids and keeps the families coming to Bubba's.
When creating the kid’s menu, we focused on incorporating highly nutritious foods into dishes that kids already like, such as topping a pizza with fresh vegetables or hiding vegetables in a pasta sauce. These foods educate kids and introduce them to new flavors and new foods.
How successful has your kids' menu been?

We see large families with kids on a daily basis and we believe that our kids’ menu plays a large part in this. Just to show how successful it has been: Bubba's has been voted the Best Family Steakhouse for the past two years by the readers of the local Parent and Child magazine. 

I know we have people who come to our restaurant just because of the kids’ menu. Some parents come because we’re offering a little something better for their kids. But there are others who don’t come to us because of the kids’ menu—they come for the food. 

What's important for kids: food that's fresh or familiar?

We don't really see the demand for a healthier kids’ menu. The chicken tenders and shrimp we grill on request in place of frying and will sub vegetables in place of fries. All of the items on the kids’ menu, expect for the hot dogs, [are] prepared at Bubba's. For example, we hand-cut and hand-batter the tenders instead of buying them frozen. This stays consistent with the rest of our menu as we cut, prepare and cook over 95% of our menu.

Kids are eating more whole foods than ever—sometimes without even recognizing them  They’re getting used to these foods and therefore they’re OK with them. From my own experience as a father of four, children will eat the foods that are presented to them, provided they taste good and look good to eat. Obesity is a huge social epidemic and our kids are unhealthy. It’s a responsibility of purveyors, restaurants, chefs, parents, etc. to change that. I’m not saying restaurants only do that but we’re going to do our part.