No more chicken fingers!
First Lady Michelle Obama suggested to Takingthe Kids in my interview last week that families patronize restaurants and resorts that support healthier kids meals.
It got me thinking of all the power we have as parents if we let hotels, resorts and restaurants know in no uncertain terms that we don’t want to feed kids a steady diet of chicken fingers, fries and mac and cheese on vacation.
We all know the dismal childhood obesity statistics: 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese. But whether a child is overweight or not, it’s certainly not healthy to eat a steady diet of fried and fat-laden foods on vacation.
Kids, many fans of the Food Network, don’t want that junk either. The First Lady , whose new book “American Grown” talks about the White House garden and other vegetable gardens across the country, suggested encouraging kids to expand their palates by visiting a farmer’s market. (www.localharvest.org can tell you where)
If you’re staying at a vacation home or condo, Mrs. Obama suggested, let the kids help choose the menu and cook. “You’d be amazed at how much more willing kids are to try foods which they’ve helped prepare themselves,” she said.
But even if you are staying at a hotel, you have more options than you might think. Hyatt, for example, is just launching Hyatt’s “For Kids By Kids,” menu that Hyatt officials say is based on Hyatt research that uncovered how kids perceive food, beverage and dining experiences and how they interact with food.
The new, “For Kids By Kids,” menu was designed for kids, by kids, and features fun, fresh and flavorful items that were tasted, tested and approved by kids, including 11-year old cooking enthusiast Haile Thomas, who is spearheading her own healthy eating campaign for children through her online cooking show Kids Can Cook.
Hyatt will offer fruits or vegetables as sides for children’s meals and free refills for nonfat or low-fat milk. Food pioneer and celebrity Chef Alice Waters developed a three-course organic and seasonal menu exclusively for Hyatt.
“All children deserve to eat real food – fresh, seasonal, organic, and delicious,” said Alice Waters. “I wanted to do a small, three course meal, within the context of Hyatt’s initiative, that could be sourced exclusively from organic farms across the country. Of course it’s about taste and ripeness and seasonality—but it’s bigger than that, too: it’s about supporting the people who are taking care of the land for our future generations.”
The “For Kids By Kids” menu was tasted, tested and approved by kids, including 11-year-old Haile Thomas, who is spearheading a campaign for healthy eating through her online cooking show, Kids Can Cook. Hyatt’s food and beverage team worked with Haile and her peers to ensure new menu offerings not only meet the brand’s standards for nutrition and quality, and are also fun.
New menu offerings will present a creative way for kids to engage with their food, such as customizing their own pasta dish and “shaking” their own salad.
How about Top Your Own Taco, a whole wheat tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheese and
fun toppings for breakfast; Build Your Own Whole Wheat Sub Sandwich with turkey, lettuce, tomato, cheese on a whole wheat mini-sub for lunch.
Hyatt will launch “HyattFlavorJourney” in September where kids and parents can learn more about “For Kids By Kids” and enjoy games and activities.
Kids will also have the option ordering from the regular menu – a half portion, at half the price – which I believe all restaurants and resorts should do whenever possible. I think wherever you are, ask if you can order a half portion or split a full portion and express displeasure if they want to charge you for doing so.
Even theme parks are getting the message. Order a kid’s meal at a Disney park and you get apples instead of fries (unless you ask for fries) and low-fat milk rather than sugary soda. Now Disney will enhance these efforts by further reducing sodium in kids’ meals and introducing new well-balanced kids’ breakfast meals.
You can also get fresh salmon and rotisserie chicken at LEGOLAND Florida, where there is an entire new exhibit, complete with LEGO characters about farming and where our food comes from. Kids’ menus include salads, wraps and fresh fruit. And I love that kids can play at giant LEGO tables at the restaurant.
Nearby at Downtown Disney the kids’ menu at Fulton’s Crab House includes crab legs and fresh fish.
Fairmont has launched a Fairmont-wide initiative to improve and upgrade kids’ menus with fresher, local ingredients. “The whole (healthier foods) program has been very successful,” said Mariano Stellner, Fairmont’s corporate director of Food and Beverage, who launched the revamp of the children’s menus this past spring as the latest component in the hotel group’s Lifestyle Cuisine Plus Initiative, which offers healthier, low-fat foods. Stellner says: “Why not include children?” Why not offer baked chicken fingers rather than fried, veggie sticks instead of French fries or a half portion instead of a full order? Why not encourage kids to try local cuisine in Mexico or British Columbia?
Even the kids’ selections in the Fairmont San Francisco’s Tonga Room — popular since 1945 and recently restored (love the big canoe in the middle!) — have been updated to include spring rolls, chicken satay, little chowchow (wok flashed vegetables and noodles) and grilled teriyaki chicken.
Destination Hotels and Resorts, a collection of hotels from Austin to Aspen to Palm Springs to Maui, has not only created a new healthy Kids Cafe menu, but also launched a contest for kids’ healthy recipes. Their just-announced winner (judged by kids) — Hidden Veggie Pepperoni Mac and Cheese — will be part of the hotels’ menus for the next year.
Just remember, we-and our kids—are the customers that these hotels and restaurants want. But it’s up to us to make sure they serve us what we want.