updated 9 Jun 2012, 09:41
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Mon, May 07, 2012
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Time to update kiddie meals
by Clara Chow


The underage pizza chefs were really going at it.

My six-year-old son Julian, wearing food-safety gloves, was spreading tomato sauce on pizza dough - gingerly at first, and then with more and more relish.

He and my three-year-old son Lucien slathered on the cheese like there was no tomorrow, dealt out the tomato slices with abandon, and were gleefully heavy-handed with ham and pineapple toppings.

Lucien, looking like a little Gordon Ramsay-wannabe, was thwarted in the mad rush for ingredients, and had a voluble meltdown.

Ju worked with all the concentration of an artisan on his 14-inch patch of pizza real estate.

This all happened a couple of weeks ago, when gourmet-pizza restaurant Crust in Holland Village had an informal media gathering to introduce its new kids' menu.

The Manic Family was invited and, after sampling the new offerings (tailored for the tastes and appetites of the young ones) the said kiddy pizza-making session ensued.

As the children went at their task with gusto, I started thinking about the growing trend of family-friendly restaurants here, with kids' meals at not just fast-food and casual-dining outlets but also gourmet eateries, and well-equipped play corners to entertain the tykes while the parents tucked in.

In a way, it is good news for foodie parents here - I've had to forgo eating at some of my favourite back-alley stalls because the thought of hauling my two young sons through a minefield of grumpy waiters laden with plates of hot food, unruly roadside traffic and stressful, cramped table configurations was simply too much.

Ironically, even as more restaurants cotton on to the appeal of kids' menus here, the concept itself is on the decline elsewhere.

In the United States, sales of child meals with toys dropped by over 7 per cent, from 1.3 billion to 1.2 billion, according to market-research firm NPD Group, cited in The Orlando Sentinel last week.

Last month, a Scottish celebrity chef called for restaurants to stop serving up junk food, like bangers and beans, on their kids' menus.

Kids, it appears, are becoming more sophisticated and maturing earlier.

One shouldn't be surprised, really - for many years now, little girls have been dressing like their mothers, and tweens have been breaking out the Chanel tweed suits and "it" bags.

So, why won't they want to eat the same things that adults do? Being confined to the typical kids' menu, with its usual suspects of nuggets, fries and spaghetti bolognese, must be a little like being in a taste ghetto.

Parents, too, have their own objections to ordering from kids' menus.

Health-conscious mums would point out that the fried fare often trotted out in kids' portions is likely to contain much fat and salt.

Others feel that it is simply more economical to order adult mains to share with their offspring.

Perhaps, if establishments pay as much attention to their kids' meals as they do to their main selection, more parents and kids would be won over.

After all, there is at least one fine-dining restaurant here that offers a degustation menu just for kids.

It's a great way to build brand loyalty, too: Serve your young patrons food that is so thoughtfully prepared and bursting with flavours, and it is likely that they won't outgrow your food in a hurry.

Chefs could see the kids' menu as a playground to unleash their culinary imagination.

Instead of only one menu to suit the "below-12" demographic, they could have several, progressively more complex in flavours, to differentiate the toddlers from the primary-school clique, and the pre-teens.

Or they could simply have an option on their main menu to customise dishes for younger diners, according to seasonal ingredients.

Crust says its kids' pizzas ($9.90, includes organic juice) are smaller, yet are similar to their adult-sized ones. The flavours are simplified a bit and, of course, are less spicy.

Julian ate up most of the kids' pizza he was served at Crust, and then went home and ate two slices of the specimen he made at the party for supper.

The best kids' meal may just be one that the kid himself prepares.

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