Father's Day plea: A dining critic's case against kids menus

Matteo Armato and his father, dining critic Dominic Armato, eat snow crab at Angry Crab Shack.

Father's Day plea: A dining critic's case against kids menus

Dad Talk

Father's Day plea: A dining critic's case against kids menus

Arizona Republic dining critic Dominic Armato has something to say about dining out with kids.

In his recent dining story, the father of two shares how he tries to encourage his kids to sample the many cuisines of the world.

“After all, they say, raising kids with developed palates is simply a matter of opening the doors of discovery. Food preferences aren’t a question of nature, but of nurture, they say.”

His take: “They are so completely full of it.”

Watch: Don’t surrender to kids menus

Of Armato’s two kids, one will try nearly anything. The other? Eh, not so much. Oh, how we can relate. This restaurant critic knows his stuff and snuffs out assumptions about kids and dining out and suggests realistic goals for parents.

When it comes to kids, there are expectations. And there’s reality.

Expectation: Kids can be encouraged to experience new foods.

Reality: “You get the palates you’re given,” Armato says. But he offers this advice with humor: “I find it’s best to just throw everything at them and see what sticks. (Might not want to use that phrase around the smallest ones, though. They might take you literally.)”

Giulia Armato regards a piece of pork with suspicion at Pho Thanh. (Photo: Dominic Armato/The Republic)

Expectation: Kids eat off the kids menu.

Reality: Don’t tie kids to those menus. He longs for the day more restaurants offer child-size portions for a reasonable price. Until then, allow kids to dine off the adult menus. Leftovers? Take them home for a meal later.

Expectation: Bland is best, from cheese crisps and french fries to chicken nuggets and hot dogs.

Reality: Let them taste things and discover what they like at a place where little fingers can grab and sample a multicolored offering of stewed veggies and flatbread, or rice and noodle dishes topped with vegetables and meats.

Armato adds: “Don’t worry about the spice. They’ll figure out what they do and don’t like.”

The Lalibela Exclusive meal from Cafe Lalibela in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo: Grace Stufkosky)

Whether you’re dining out with kids who are willing to try new cuisine or confronted with a picky eater, the lesson for all parents is clear.

Keep offering new tastes and dining experiences for those pint-size palates. And think outside the kid-friendly menu box.

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