I’m having a hard time believing Sunday is Easter already. Usually by now I have figured out what we are going to do, especially in regards to the food. Am I cooking? Are we going somewhere? Picking food up? I’ve only got 6 days left to plan for another day of yummy food. But what shall we have? And does it include our extended family? Good thing for me I don’t think my parents or my in-laws have made any plans yet either.
Now comes the hard part. Usually the planning of the meal for special occasions comes pretty easily for me mostly because I love to do it. But do you ever get into one of those food funks? Bored with the same ol same ol? And I like to try restaurants I’ve never been to before but do I really want to take a risk for Easter? I know many other families have planned this weeks in advance and even made reservations. Not sure what to do. When I don’t know what to do… I google.
Upon my first search, I realized I had totally overlooked the traditions we already have with our kids. Hunting for eggs is one of their favorite, especially when my dad is involved. The kids have a blast so now I need to either find the plastic eggs from last year or add it to my grocery list for the week.
Plastic Eggs, check
The kids are also really into arts and crafts and we always color eggs too. The egg dying kits of today have really gotten interesting but I like the good old traditional way of doing it. Another thing to add to the list.
Egg dye, check
Easter to me is one of those holidays similar to others, spending time with friends and family, with the difference that the word RELAXING must play a roll (as opposed to Christmas and some of the more chaotic holidays). And at the center of most holidays with friends and family is the meal experience. So by writing this blog today, I’ve just come up with the theme for the meal: RELAXING. A relaxing meal. What does that look like though? Cooking to me is relaxing so that’s what we’re going to do. Time to get busy.
Monday, look at recipes and decide on menu items. Choose items that are easy to make and in some cases can be made ahead of time. I don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen by myself – would rather be outside with family. The grill is outside… that’s an option.
Tuesday, make the grocery list and pick up what won’t go bad before the weekend.
Wednesday, prep the food for the items I can prepare ahead of time. Prepping is what usually takes the most time anyway so I can get it out of the way.
Thursday, cook the “ahead of time” items and put in the fridge or freezer.
Friday, pick up the rest of the ingredients to finish the menu.
Saturday, boil the eggs and cook what’s left that doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow.
Sunday my work time in the kitchen will be shorter and family time longer if I can actually follow this great plan I just came up with. We’ll see. But at least it helped me not feel so panicked that it’s already April and Easter’s on Sunday!
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A few months ago, there were several national restaurant chains that found themselves in the media spot light for reasons they would have preferred to avoid: serving alcohol to kids by accident. Last year a North Carolina restaurant posted a sign that read “screaming children will not be tolerated.” Just this week a Pennsylvania restaurant announced his ban for any children under the age of 6.
When the alcohol incidents occured, I refrained from comment – I used to work in restaurants and understand how it can happen. Although they were terrible accidents, they served as long-overdue wake up calls for some places to change their operational procedures. Then when the North Carolina restaurant posted their sign, I quietly provided my opinion on the matter. However, with the latest publicity from poor handling of situations with customers with kids, it’s time I weighed in.
As a kid-friendly restaurant consultant, I work with restaurants to help them realize the value of the family consumer, what it means to the bottom line and how easy it really is to serve this customer and make their employees and other customers all happy at the same time. I’m not trying to sell anything, it’s just the way it is and I know so from many years of research and conversation with parents who take kids out to eat as well as the restaurants that serve them. So as The Restaurant Mom, industry consultant, a voice for the consumer, and mom of 2, I see both sides of the idea of banning kids from restaurants.
On MyKidsPlate we fully recognize that there are kid-friendly restaurants, there are restaurants better for what we call grown ups night out, and there are restaurants that are a hybrid of both. Patronage of restaurants is determined by consumers on many things including the food, the atmosphere, and the location. Some restaurants are located in areas that have higher demographics of seniors, for example. Some restaurants are pretty clearly, by their branding and atmosphere, not geared for dining with young kids and that’s ok too. Different strokes for different folks, right?
To some extent I agree with the Pennsylvania restaurant owner that some parents have become ‘too selfish’ and think this is their world and the rest of us are living in it. I’ve seen those parents myself who let their kids run all over the place, scream and holler, and the like. However, I am getting really tired of hearing people from the non-kid population put all parents with kids into this proverbable bucket that all kids act in such a way. The reality is that it’s not all parents with kids that go out to eat and in fact, it’s less than you would think. But because the ones that are so loud or out of control are so noticeable, it seems bigger than it really is.
Restaurants have a dual role when it comes to serving the public: it’s providing good food but in an environment that the people eating it want to be served in. Consumers today are more individualistic than they’ve ever been, putting themselves into their own social groups. This can be seen clearly through social media especially on Facebook and tools like Meetup. The point is that restaurants have been slow to change their marketing strategies to be geared more specifically to the consumers they want in their restaurants. These different consumer groups have different hot buttons about where they want to eat, what they want to eat, and how they want to enjoy it.
In many cases of kids being loud or running around, it’s because they’re bored. If some of these restaurant experiences weren’t so boring, you wouldn’t see as many kids distracting the other guests through their noise or behavior. You hear it all the time, we are in a media overloaded world. Is there really any doubt as to why going out to eat at a boring restaurant can be boring for today’s kid? If restaurants don’t want kids running around and ‘being loud’ than turn up the volume, literally and figuratively. Restaurants that want families as customers (they do spend more than diners without kids) should be doing certain easy things to enhance the experience for the kids which ultimately makes it better for everyone else. Activity sheets are a good place to start but if they are lame, it’s pointless. Sports bar themed restaurant are popular because they are noisy. But if a restaurant doesn’t want families with kids, then it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to create that environment within the restaurant. A ban based on age for an entire population is inappropriate and over the top. Ultimately it is a punishment for those parents who do their job in teaching their kids how to behave and act appropriately.
Last year I was contacted by a mom who said she was banned from a Chicago area restaurant because her kid was crying. When I contacted the restaurant to get more information, I ultimately heard the “two sides” of the story. In this case, the restaurant manager asked the mom to step outside with the crying child because she was getting complaints from other people in the restaurant. That is how it should be handled and done so with dignity and respect. Each restaurant should have a policy for how they will handle those situations and be consistent with it, not discriminatory. Banning people, based on age or for any other reason is a slippery slope we should not go back down. Seniors can’t be banned based on their age. Do we really need to go there with kids? Personally, I think there is a better approach.
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February 9th, 2011General
There’s so much buzz about the obesity rates in America and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” iniative. Although it’s encouraging to see big names like Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver getting on the horn about school lunches, as The Restaurant Mom I also wish there was a bigger push for healthier and better tasting food for kids on restaurant menus. Some of the items being passed off as ‘food’ is appalling and those are restaurants that we do not return to. Recognizing that it will take an army of parents to get restaurants to provide both better and healthier options for our kids, here is a first step in that direction. The Healthy Kids Menu Survey. The question no longer is “do you want restaurants to offer better menu items.” The questions instead are geared at identifying what you expect restaurants to offer that your kids will actually eat. Please take a few minutes to fill out the Healthy Kids Menu Survey.
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- restaurant kids menu survey
So Chili’s has always been one of my favorite to take my kids – it’s usally pretty quick, the food is decent for what you pay, there are a lot of selections for the kids on the kid’s menu (albeit not exactly healthy which is why my kids split a meal) and it’s relatively noisy so my kids can blend in. But one thing I have been waiting for them to do is a Kids Eat Free offer. And they finally did! I got it in my email yesterday and was so excited I’ve been telling everyone about. Right now it’s only in Freeburary as they are calling it, but I’ll take what I can get and if it works like its supposed to, maybe they’ll do it longer!Tags: Chili's, kids eat free
And What’s Up with the $1 Charge after 4 PM?
Last Saturday I was craving it… the infamous Ruby Tuesday salad bar. It had been a long time since we’ve been to Ruby Tuesday and even longer since we had been there with the kids – the day after I ran the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, D.C. in 2007 to be exact. I remember it like it was yesterday. I crawled out of my car, barely able to move, craving a Ruby Tuesday salad bar after 3 hours on the road headed back home to Florida. When we walked in we were surprised to find a beautifully remodeled, although not terribly kid-friendly, restaurant. The white tablecloths were surprising and a bit over the top but the staff made us feel right at home.
So back to last Saturday… we packed up the kiddos along with the in-laws and headed out to the Ruby Tuesday on University Drive in East Orlando. When we walked in we were hesitantly greeted by a hostess that didn’t appear to be in the mood to be at work (it was New Year’s Day so I tried to cut her some slack) but there in all its glory was the crave-satisfying, veggie overload of delight, Ruby Tuesday salad bar. I couldn’t wait to dig in.
After being seated it was several minutes before being greeted by our server. My son quickly blurted out that she looked just like the sister on the famed Disney show “Phineas and Ferb.” She smiled as her cheeks blushed and admitted to watching the show which made my 4 year-old flirt giggle in delight. I appreciated the interaction between her and my son as this is one of the first things I grade servers on – do you even acknowledge my kids. And she did so I give her a couple of “points.” But only a couple because then it pretty much stopped. Every question I proceeded to ask her she couldn’t answer and continued to leave the table to go get answers; all in the process of just trying to order drinks.
While she was gone I noticed their ‘promotional’ menu – the one you get in addition to their main menu. It was pretty, full of photos intended to ignite your craving and eerily similar to a menu I was more than familiar with… even featuring an entree I had seen before called the New Orleans Seafood. Where had I seen all this before? Where was it??? Oh yeah, now I remember… Red Lobster. This photo-filled menu made me think I was at Red Lobster. Then when she offered the free garlic cheddar biscuits… well that just put me over the top. “Where am I?” I wondered. Had we really pulled into a Red Lobster and not even realized it?
As soon as the garlic cheddar biscuits were delivered to the table I realized we were in fact, not at Red Lobster. We were all disappointed by these little tidbits of stale tasting bread-like things claiming to be garlic cheddar biscuits. My kids would have preferred to use them as batting disks so the disks they did stay on the plates on which they were displayed.
As I perused the menu, I noticed one change very quickly from my last visit – an extra $1 will be charged for most items on the menu if ordered after 4 pm- including my beloved salad bar. WHAT? The adults at the table all had to read it a couple of times to see if we were reading it correctly. I’ve seen discounts for eating before 4 pm, usually referred to as an early bird special, but I’ve never been punished for eating at a restaurant at dinner time. I’ve even seen separate lunch and dinner menus with different pricing, usually based on different portion sizes, but I can’t imagine these items are different portion sizes for just $1. I could be wrong but on the surface of it, it just looks strange; especially to someone with my background.
I checked my other ‘favorite’ on the menu to see if it had an up charge – the Typhoon Shrimp appetizer – just enough kick to ignite the taste buds for the approaching salad bar. Luckily it did not but after it arrived to the table we had to send it back for its flavor of chlorine instead of spice. And we had to track down someone other than our server to get them off our table because she was rarely one to be found. “I hope my turkey burger doesn’t taste like that” I thought as I patiently waited for the hot part of my meal.
The turkey burger did not disappoint – it was served hot and had a lot of flavor and was a nice accompaniment to my twisty pasta salad with peas and ham from the salad bar. The bun was fresh and did not fall apart as is often the case at other establishments. And it was generous – I had to share it with the hubby. The only problem I had was that the kid’s food still had not arrived after I was several bites into my burger and we had asked for theirs to come out as soon as possible.
If someone at Ruby Tuesday were to ask me, “what can we do to make your visit with us better and get you to come back more often?” Here is some of what I would say:
• Do a better job of training your staff before letting them on the floor on their own.
• Educate them before their shift on drink and dinner specials.
• Do not allow them to bring stale biscuit impersonations.
• Give them an incentive/reason to be happy about having to work on the holiday.
• Train them with specific tips of how to treat and talk to families with kids versus diners without them.
• Offer parents with little ones a small soufflé cup or coffee cup plate to get a couple of snacks like grapes from the salad bar to hold these little ones over until the food arrives. If these little diners are happy and quiet so are the diners sitting around them.
• When the parents request for the kid’s food to come out first, deliver it BEFORE and not AFTER the parent’s food arrives.
• Be happy to see me, greet me, and seat me with my kids by turning that frown upside down.
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There are so many of them out there now: Ale House (Miller’s and Carolina), Buffalo Wild Wings, Buffalo Wings & Rings, Bru’s Room, Duffy’s, Beef O’Brady’s, and Scotty’s Brewhouse, just to name a few. Sure they have a bar but can they also be kid-friendly? The Restaurant Mom says “yes!”
What’s so appealing about this type of restaurant for a family? Well, a number of things.
To begin with, just like ANY restaurant, sports themed or not, they have to provide good service. Parents everywhere are really tired of going out to eat with their kids, mostly well-behaved, spending about $50 of their hard-earned money with each visit, and getting bad service. What gives? Why can’t a server talk to my 6 year old and ask HER what she wants to eat? She can talk and we’ve most likely already discussed what she’s allowed to have or not have by the time the server takes the order anyway. I am telling servers now, “if you just speak with my kids and treat them as human beings instead of a disease I just brought in your restaurant, I will tip you more- for that one action!” We ate at a Big Boy recently and although the food was barely edible, the server was FANTASTIC!!!! You know why? She engaged my kids by speaking to them! Even with bad food we tipped her 30%.
By design, sports-themed restaurants have advantages over some other restaurants:
- The TV’s – kids of all ages like to look at TV’s. Notice that I said look and not watch. Sure they like to watch but they will look at a TV just for the sake of looking as it is an activity for their eyes which can correlate to 5 minutes that mom or dad get to eat hot food. And seeing something on that TV may even spark an impromptu conversation between parent and child. My three-year old son thinks he is a sports fanatic, already. While eating at one of the above mentioned restaurants, he noticed that someone scored a basket during the Magic game and proclaimed it so loud that I think even patrons at the restaurant next door heard him. This event prompted a conversation about sports between my husband and our son that may not have otherwise happened if we hadn’t been eating there at that moment. A memory!
- The noise – most parents are timid about taking their kids out to eat to restaurants where there is not a decent level of noise. When the kids act up or get noisy themselves, it is the parent who is embarrased when the restaurant is too quite. At a nice noisy sports themed restaurant, I don’t have to worry about that as much and it relieves some anxiety about going out. Remember the basket my son celebrated? It didn’t matter that he was so loud and celebrating because he blended in with the environment.
- The bar – I am not in any way endorsing excessive parental drinking out at an establishment with their children. However, the reality is that many parents like to have a beer or glass of wine with their dinner, especially while dining out with kids. At a sports-themed restaurant, we don’t look like some creep trying to get our drink on because we blend in with the environment of other patrons having one with dinner.
- The video games – for the most part, many restaurants have provided a few of the more “rated G” video games in their sports-themed restaurant. If you are one of these restaurants and you do not have some “rated G” games, you are missing the boat. Focusing on your adult patrons for video game usage is a mistake as most are more likely there to enjoy a sporting event. When parents take their kids to your establishment they are hoping you have something decent the kids can play. If you do, and you place it where I can still see my kids while I sit down, then I’m droppin several dollars into that machine and more importantly I’m potentially leaving happy because I got a couple minutes of peace to eat my food.
- The menu – sports-themed restaurants tend to have one of the broadest menus around; there is usually something on it that will make every member of the family happy. And smart sports-themed restaurants even have a couple of healthier options choose from. However, they better be good. As a mom who makes the decisions about where we go out to eat, if I order something healthy from your menu and it was bad, I’m going to your competitor that offers better healthy menu selections. Healthy can taste good, I promise!
With all these advantages that specifically target the hot buttons of family diners, why do these types of restaurants not want families to eat there? I wish I knew. What I do know is that it doesn’t take much to make my family and I happy when we go out to eat and if restaurants started treating families with a little bit more respect, I know that increases in revenues and repeat visits would be the end result.
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My best friend is a kindergarten teacher and since she started teaching 6 years ago, she asks her students the same Thanksgiving question every year and documents their responses. I thought it was such a great idea I decided to duplicate it here and ask some of the kids of MKP. The question is: How will you cook the turkey? And sometimes, if the kids aren’t that descriptive, she asks them what they will make to serve with the turkey. So, here it goes:
How will you cook the turkey?
Regan, 6 – Um, um, um. I am going to get food and turkey and a lot, a lot of food and some chips. And some doritos and that’s it. I’m gonna put the turkey in the oven and I’m going to set the food up and some plates and some napkins on something so they can get their own food. And that’s it. What are you going to make? Pumpkin pie since Mrs. Rosa (her kindergarten teacher) likes it. And, I’m gonna make a fire.
Ryan, 3 – How to cook a turkey: with the ladder. Put the different ingredients on the turkey. Bring it to the people to eat. Serve it to them. What else are you going to make? Sausage. And that’s it.
Evan, 5 – I’ll put cheese on it; yellow cheese and melt it, and salt and pepper and that’s it. I’d cook it with biscuits because I like biscuits.
Joseph, 5 – make it with bread and put it in the bathtub.
Bella, 4 – put the turkey in the oven with pepper and pepperoni.
Morgan, 3 – put it in the microwave and put marshmallows in it. What else will you make with the turkey? Cheese.
Austin, 7 – Get a turkey, put it in the oven and take it out and that’s all. I’m going to put mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, um gravy and chicken.
Cooper, 3 – put the turkey in the oven with cornbread.
Ask your kids and get their responses – we are happy to add them here.
Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving from our family at MKP to yours.
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Tags: American Pie Pizza Company, boston market, buffalo's southwest cafe, dogs r us, duffy's sports grill, geen day cafe, Julie Casey, kids eat free central florida, kids eat free video, Media, mykidsplate, tropical smoothie cafe, woody's bbq
It was May, 2007. I had taken the leap from corporate-working-mom and become a stay-at-home-mom the previous August. After months of venturing out on my own to eat at restaurants with my kids, I quickly realized that restaurants didn’t want my business. They didn’t want me to come into their restaurant with a group of 12. Mostly, they didn’t want kids, irregardless of how they behaved, and they made no apologies for it. My search for kid-friendly restaurants in Orlando and beyond had begun.
After that day in May, I got online. For the millions of Americans who get online everyday, you know the wealth of information available. But after that day in May, at that restaurant that didn’t want my business, I searched and searched for restaurants that did. I used every key word combination I could find and never found a list I felt was legit. But mostly I never found a defnition of a kid-friendly restaurant. Rather than pull one out of the air, I started the task of identifying what is important to parents when they take their kids out to eat both with interviews and with a survey. That’s how we discovered what a kid-friendly restaurant is.
We learned a lot including the fact that parents will pass restaurants that aren’t kid-friendly and drive to the ones that are. We learned too that like myself, a lot of people don’t think there are really many kid-friendly restaurants. There are restaurants that possess things like kids’ menus and highchairs or offer a kids eat free night but what we learned most is that having those items does not deem a restaurant kid-friendly, just more kid-friendly than a restaurant that doesn’t.
So, you ask, what is a kid-friendly restaurant? At the top of the 30 attributes a kid-friendly restaurant provides activities for the kids. Not just a coloring book that typically can grab a child’s attention span for all of 12.3 seconds, but stuff that keeps them busy. It can be anything. Cracker Barrell puts those peg games on their tables. Chili’s has a pretty good activities book that has stuff for kids of all ages to do. American Pie Pizza Company has a screen and video games for the family to play at their tables. Houston’s gives kids an etch-a-sketch. Some restaurants give pizza dough or have Kids Make Their Own Pizza promotions. The beauty of “activities for my kids” is that restaurants can offer something unique to their brand that other restaurants aren’t doing and have it contribute to a positive dining experience and a reason for the family to come back again.
A big piece of the kid-friendly puzzle is SERVICE! SERVICE! SERVICE! You hear it all the time but why are restaurants not doing it? The family experience at a restaurant begins with the first interaction at the front door. If the hostess greets a family with a rolling of the eyes, the server doesn’t acknowledge the kids during the introduction, and the family was forced to fetch their own highchair, all within the first 5 minutes, how do you think the rest of the experience is going to go? Over and over again parents have told me, “they don’t even acknowledge my kids,” and “I feel unwelcome when they see me walk in with my kids.” Last month we conducted some interviews with families as they left restaurants that were supposed to be kid-friendly. We would ask how everything was and get the typical “it was ok” response. When we asked if the server spoke to their kids, 100% of them said no.
Another piece of the puzzle is also menus, not just the kids’ menus but the ‘adult’ or main restaurant menu. Kids’ menus as a whole have not changed for many years. Restaurants say that parents don’t order anything other than the traditional items like chicken fingers and grilled cheese. Parents say they want to see healthier menu selections for their kids. No, they may not order it every time but they want to see it as an option, and oh, by the way, it needs to taste good. In addition to that the adult menu needs to not only have a good variety, but value, and healthier selections as well. Drinks. Drinks on kids’ menus have been even slower to change than the food. WIth so many drink options out now I really struggle with understanding why restaurants don’t offer something other than juice and soda – they are both usually filled with sugar. Why not some flavored sparkling water? Even the big box grocery stores sell that. Kids’ menus are also about the activities, not just the food items. As mentioned previously, if a kids’ menu has a 12.3 attention span rating than what’s the point?
I could go on and on all day about what a kid-friendly restaurant is and what restaurants can and should be doing, and how simple it is, to turn families into loyal fans. Instead of doing that, let’s consider this first excerpt as Chapter I – the Introduction.
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August 26th, 2009General
Last week at least 7 different articles regarding free kid’s meals, healthy kid’s meals, and childhood obesity arrived in my inbox. These are just a few of the headlines:
IHOP offers kids eat free 7 days a week, Cheesecake Factory and PF Chang’s now adding kid’s menus and Kids menus buldging despite obesity concerns
First and foremost, I have seen people, some without kids, blog with the following statement “stay at home to make your kids healthy food.” Let me address this here and nip it in the bud – the reality is that families will not entirely eliminate going out to eat. There may be changes in dining habits, but due to the fast-paced, non-50′s lifestyle many families lead these days, going to a restaurant is a means to an end – it’s a reward for good grades or behavior, a break for mom, or a quick stop on the way home before getting ready for bed. So, like it or not, families are going to go out to eat.
So the next question is, how do we change this event into one that doesn’t contribute to the obesity rates of our children? As a kid-friendly restaurant critic, I naturally see lots and lots of kid’s menus. There are restaurants making efforts but there is much to be done. Adding a fruit cup or broccoli to a menu does not make it healthy. Quite frankly I think many parents would be offended at the mere attempt to fool us into thinking a restaurant offers healthy with the addition of these items to the kid’s menu.
I have heard many things from restaurants about making healthier changes to the kids’ menus including “it doesn’t make a positive impact to my bottom line”, “they don’t order the healthy stuff we offer”, and “what should we add?”
First, as with any other promotion or change, if you don’t tell your consumers about what you have to offer, how are they going to know? Time after time I find restaurants for example, that offer a kid’s eat free night and don’t promote it. What’s the point? Can you afford to be giving away free food to families that just happened to come in on the night you offered it? In addition, our research indicates that if parents know about it, they will choose your restaurant over one that doesn’t offer the healthier choices.
Secondly, you are right. Often families are not necessarily ordering the healthy stuff you offer. If your healthy items don’t taste good or appeal to kids, they are not going to order them and they may not order it every time. However it is one of the best forms of marketing you can implement in your restaurant and it can be fun. “Healthy” and “appeal to kids” are not oxymorons.
Lastly, what should you add? If a restaurant has an adult/regular menu, there are probably lots of things you could add. Before you try it on your own, I recommend hiring someone who can help- an expert in kid-friendly dining. This is not an attempt at self-promotion. This is an attempt at saving a restaurant the time and money of trying things that may not work and then loosing the drive to make the change. It will cost a lot less in the long run if you bring someone in who has the background and experience needed to execute this type of program. And, if done right, will make a restaurant money.
On those notes, I want to hear from you. If you take kids out to eat and would like to see changes in kids’ menus to include healthier options, what specifically would you like to see? Is it a type of beverage, other than soda and fruit juice. Is it your kid’s favorite thing to eat at home that could be served in restaurants? If you’re a restaurant, I want to hear from you too. What have you tried? If you haven’t tried anything, why not?Tags: food kids like, healthy kids menus