There was a time when hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and pasta dominated the kids’ menus in most restaurants. While those dishes are still prevalent, restaurants like Harry’s Savoy Grill and Harry’s Seafood Grill have added healthy entrées, sides and desserts to create a balance.
“The items we’ve created have been well-received,” says David Leo Banks, executive chef for Harry’s Hospitality Group.
Offering healthier items is part of a national trend. For more than a decade, healthcare providers and researchers have warned about rising obesity rates. Despite the increased awareness, nearly 17 percent of children (ages 2 to 19) and more than eight percent of young children (ages 2 to 5) were obese, according to a report by Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization focused on preventing disease, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
To encourage children to make healthier choices in a restaurant, start at home, says Ronnie Burkle, a chef and director of operations for SoDel Concepts, which owns nine restaurants in coastal Sussex County. For Burkle and his wife, Courtney, that means leading by example. “To get them to eat healthy, we simply eat healthily,” he says. “We show them the joys and flavors of a raw stick of asparagus or carrots. We are big fans of them trying new things. They love a variety of pickled vegetables.”
Getting the kids involved with the meal preparation can help them choose healthy ingredients. For a quick meal at home, Dan Tagle, the chef at Nordstrom Grill, buys regular and whole-wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. His three daughters—twins Emily and Alyssa, 12, and Hannah, 9—help him stretch and shape the dough. They then add their favorite sauce and toppings.
“They get such a sense of pride when they create something,” he says, “and it is a really good way to sneak things like broccoli and mushrooms into their life.”
When they’re in a restaurant, Tagle encourages them to try new dishes. His twins often order from the adult menu, and his youngest will share a plate with her father. (Whether at home or in a restaurant, the children have a salad and vegetable with their meals.)
Indeed kids don’t need to stick to the children’s menu. Nelia Dolan, a mom with four kids ranging in age from 7 to 14—goes back and forth. Her 10-year-old often orders from the adult menu. Her 14-year-old goes for the adult burger, while her younger children tend to be pretty predictable and usually order from the kids’ menu.
“However, the last couple of times we went out, my youngest surprised me and ordered fried shrimp from the regular menu, which is a bigger deal than you might think,” says Dolan, who lives in the Rehoboth Beach area.
If children eat mostly healthy dishes at home, then a little splurge in a restaurant isn’t a catastrophe.
“Courtney and I eat whatever we want when we go out, so we let them do the same,” Burkle says.
Even so, the standard kids’ menu offerings might be better in some spots than others. “Macaroni and cheese gets a bad rap,” Tagle says. “We make ours in-house and to order. It definitely adds a healthier side with the pasta we use.”
Here are just a few of the restaurants that are taking the kids’ menu up a notch. (Menu items are subject to change.)
Shop and stop: Nordstrom Grill
For standard kids’ menu items with a twist, pop into the Nordstrom Grill. Ingredients include wheat bread, Barilla Protein Plus Pasta, hormone-free milk and, whenever possible, organic produce. All kids’ meals include organic raisins, grapes, strawberries and a choice of milk, juice or soda in a complimentary Kids Cafe Cup. | 100 Christiana Mall, Newark, 613-6000.
“Mini Me” menu: SoDel Concepts’ restaurants
â€‹SoDel Concepts has nine restaurants along the Delaware coast, and menu items on the kids’ menu look very similar to the adult entrées. Consider grilled salmon or a crab cake with French fries at Fish On in Lewes, or buttermilk-fried shrimp with fries and vegetables at Bluecoast Seafood Grill. Bluecoast also features steamed clams and the ageless Shirley Temple. The macaroni and cheese is made from scratch. | For links to the restaurants, visit sodelconcepts.com.
Little fish in a big pond: Big Fish Grill
Fresh fish is the star at the three Big Fish Grill restaurants, located in Rehoboth Beach, Wilmington and Glen Mills, Pa. It also appears on the children’s menu. You can ask for vegetables instead of the starch, and the restaurants also offer fresh fruit. | For links to the restaurants, visit bigfishgrill.com.
Ciao, bella: Bella Coast
Italian is usually a kid-pleaser. Here’s another reason to celebrate: On Sundays, kids eat for free at this restaurant, which belongs to the Big Fish Group. The menu includes grilled chicken as either an entrée or a sandwich. All meals come with a scoop of homemade gelato. (The menu also offers fun facts on Italy and an Italian language lesson.) | 2530 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 479-5683, bellacoast.com.
Dinner and a show: Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal Grill
On Mondays kids eat for free at Kid’s, which also hosts Jungle John, who makes balloon animals for the kids from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The menu features pasta, hot dogs and other items that kids love. But you’ll also find salmon with broccoli and sliced apples, grilled shrimp with a green salad sprinkled with Goldfish crackers and grilled chicken with broccoli and sliced pineapple. | 1801 W. Fourth St., Wilmington, 658-4600, harryshospitalitygroup.com/kid-shelleens.
Fishin’ for goodness: Harry’s Seafood Grill
Situated on the Wilmington Riverfront, Harry’s, like its siblings—Kid Shelleen’s and Harry’s Savoy Grill—has healthy options that are 600 calories or less, such as herb-seasoned chicken tenderloin with steamed spinach and sliced apples or grilled shrimp and pineapple. | 101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500, harryshospitalitygroup.com/harrys-seafood-grill.
Where’s the beef: Harry’s Savoy Grill
The flagship restaurant of Harry’s Hospitality Group is known for meat, and there’s a tyke-sized prime rib offering with mashed potatoes and broccoli (described as “little trees”). Other selections include steamed salmon with “little trees” and buttermilk-battered chicken fingers with a fresh fruit cup and green peas. | 2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000, harryshospitalitygroup.com/harrys-savoy-grill.
Full coverage: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
Adults love Iron Hill in Newark and Wilmington for the craft beer, but the kids’ menu is arguably one of the largest in the areas. Entrées include baked haddock, broiled shrimp, grilled or baked chicken breast and fish and chips, along with meatloaf, chicken fingers and pizza. There are sections for sandwiches, hot sides and cold sides. Iron Hill also has a gluten-free and allergen-friendly menu just for kids. The fun menu includes games and illustrations for coloring. | For information on each restaurant, along with locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, visit ironhillbrewery.com.
Going with the grain: Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen
The “Little Graniacs Menu” at this Newark restaurant offers such sides as carrots and celery, mixed veggies and sweet potato fries. The presentation might entice the kids to eat their vegetables. Meals come on a Frisbee that they can take home. | 270 E. Main St., Newark, 737-2931, grainonmain.com.
Focus on health food: Home Grown Café
Vegetarians and diners on special diets have long known about Home Grown Café, which is probably the only restaurant in Delaware where fried rice with tofu or chicken is on the kids’ menu. You’ll also find a quesadilla with yellow rice, grilled chicken with a side of macaroni and cheese or steamed carrots and a grilled chicken-and-cheese sandwich. | 126 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6993, homegrowncafe.com.
Just like grown-ups: River Rock Kitchen
Located in the Westin on the Riverfront, River Rock has a menu that will whet a parent’s appetite. Take, for instance, baked chicken with a cornflake crust served with carrots and low-fat ranch sauce; Asian-style salmon with soba noodles, carrots, red peppers and sesame seeds; and grilled chicken with whole wheat pasta served with tomato sauce, broccoli and Parmesan cheese. Since it’s in a hotel, the restaurant also serves breakfast, and kids’ selections include build-your-own granola parfaits. | 818 Shipyard Drive, Wilmington, 397-5518, riverrockkitchen.com.
Rack ‘em up: Bethany Blues
Not surprisingly, this barbecue restaurant, with locations in Lewes and Bethany Beach, offers pint-sized diners a smaller portion of ribs and Carolina-style pulled pork or chicken. The “healthiest choice” selection includes a small portion of pulled chicken and the vegetable of the day. For good behavior, little diners who visit the Lewes restaurant on Tuesdays get a free sundae, served in a Bethany Blues baseball helmet. | For information on each location, visit bethanyblues.com.