Sacramento restaurants offer interesting kids meal options

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P.F. Chang’s offers kids a healthy meal option with its Baby Buddha’s Feast, which features a giant plate of sliced carrots, pea pods and broccoli offered steamed or stir-fried.

P.F. Chang’s offers kids a healthy meal option with its Baby Buddha’s Feast, which features a giant plate of sliced carrots, pea pods and broccoli offered steamed or stir-fried.

P.F. Chang’s

The restaurant term “kids meal” conjures a certain image. Perhaps the ubiquitous chicken strips, grilled cheeses, french fries, hamburgers, and spaghetti and meatballs.

The portions are smaller because the people are smaller, and the children ideally eat everything on their plate, in their bento boxes or in their ice cream bowls.

Getting these kids to eat is one thing, but what of nutrition? Some largely empty calories now and then are part of childhood, but what you can go out to eat and find a balance between fun food and healthy food.

Midtown resident Lisa Cook has over a decade of experience directing the nutrition program at a private daycare facility.The key for both parents and restaurants, she says, is providing a reason for kids to eat the food.

“I like it when restaurants offer child sizes of adult meals, which tend to be more nutritious,” Cook said. “And kids don’t like their food touching. They like each item compartamentalized, like in a Happy Meal. It’s good to have a little incentive at the end to eat your food, too.”

For children ages 6 to 12, the USDA Child Care Food Program guidelines prescribe alimentation like a slice of whole grain bread, a half cup of cooked dry beans or 2 ounces of lean meat for protein, and 8 ounces of milk. Then there is the half cup of vegetables and a quarter cup of fruit.

Let us explore how the kids’ menus in Sacramento stack up.

At Mikuni on 16th Street, kids can select two different items for a bento box, including teriyaki chicken and edamame. French fries are an option as well, and the box includes steamed rice.

Lucca serves grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes to youngsters, or that old standby spaghetti and meatball, either for $7.

Jack’s Urban Eats on 20th Street offers 3 ounces of chargrilled chicken breast cut into moist, peppery little pieces; that is an ounce over the USDA recommendation. Options for sides include a veritable rainbow of market veggies, cooked in canola and olive oil with balsamic vinegar added: purple onions, red bell pepper, yellow squash and green zucchini. The seasonal fruit offered could be sliced apples or oranges. A 12-ounce whole milk runs an additional $1.50.

And then there is P.F. Chang’s at 16th and J streets. It had the most customizable kids’ menu, with four pages of activities to complete with the provided crayons, including Kung Fu Kitty’s veggie maze.

There are five different entrees to choose from, and a server recently indicated the battered and fried chicken chunks were the most popular item. P.F. Chang’s additionally serves gluten-free fried rice. And there’s the Baby Buddha’s Feast: a giant plate of sliced carrots, pea pods and broccoli offered steamed or stir-fried, perhaps pushing the palatable envelope for most kids.

Fresh fruit is offered as a side, and the 250-calorie coconut pineapple ice cream is the finale, and an example of one of those incentives Cook mentioned to get the child to work through those plain peas and broccoli.

Back at Mikuni, the incentive is those tiny, orange, boxed rice candies with the clear edible wrappers, and an animal sticker a child can stick on her uncle’s back. The sticker depicts a moose on a motorcycle. The uncle was amused.

So yes, the balance of fun, nutrition and craveable food is possible in Sacramento. You don’t have to go to McDonald’s and watch your kids eat a cheeseburger and fries over a Coca Cola, taking home a plastic toy that will most likely end up in a landfill.

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