Should We Eliminate the Concept of "Kid Food"?

Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail laura.hahnefeld@newtimes.com.

Last month, in the health section of U.S. News & World Report, Dr. David Katz, a specialist in internal and preventive medicine, made a case for eliminating the concept of "kid food" -- essentially foodstuffs that are marketed to children.

"Every species teaches its kids how to eat," says Dr. Katz. "Every species but ours. We have invented an entire industry devoted to feeding kids differently."

Does Dr. Katz's notion of ridding the country of kid food have a restaurant application as well? I asked a few Valley chefs and restaurateurs and this is what they had to say.

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Chef Jeff Pilditch, Bistro 24

Absolutely. Foods like mac 'n' cheese, chicken tenders, and ranch dressing by the gallon do not provide a diet I would recommend for any kid. As with anything, these foods are certainly okay in moderation; however, we should focus on encouraging our kids to eat healthy foods filled with the nutrients they need. Kid food is convenience food, and that's not a step in the right direction.

Greg LaPrad, Chef and Owner, Overland Trout, Sonoita

No, some things should remain as they are. Part of growing up is eating hot dogs, mac 'n' cheese, chicken nuggets, and SpaghettiOs. That said, once you're grown up, you should be required to try different vegetables and not be a super-picky eater.

Chef Chris Nicosia, Sassi

We shouldn't eliminate the idea of kid food, but we should adjust the offerings. Every kid's menu is the same: chicken tenders, pasta with butter, grilled cheese, hamburgers, etc. The kid's menu should reflect the theme of the restaurant. Having a kid's section on a menu serves two other purposes as well. First, it shows the parents that the restaurant is kid-friendly. Second, it lets the kids know they are important diners, too.

Chef Chris Knouse, The Wigwam

Absolutely not. Kids love stuff like chicken tenders and cheeseburgers. So do some adults.

Michael O'Dowd, Chef and Owner, Renegade by Mod

Yes, in terms of its verbiage. More like "young culinary choices." There are many adult selections that can easily be re-engineered to please the young ones. With child obesity on the rise, it's about the choices that kids make when their parents aren't around. The choices they will make are taught in our schools and families, and it will benefit their world in the long run if they are steered in the right healthy direction.

Gio Osso, Chef and Owner, Virtu

I don't think kid food should be eliminated, but I do think it's a matter of exposing our children to foods other than burger chains and processed garbage. Just because Dad wants some squab and Mom loves halibut cheeks doesn't mean they can't enjoy themselves due to having children. Children can love more than chicken fingers and fries.

Cory Lattuca, Corporate Chef, Grimaldi's Pizzeria

Absolutely. Kids are infinitely pliable -- they want what you want. If you never feed them "kids food" they won't even know it exists. I love the idea of my 2-year-old daughter eating a pesto pizza with artichoke hearts instead of chicken nuggets.

Guido Saccone, Chef and Partner, Cibo

I like the idea of kid-friendly food at a restaurant. Different choices that are more appealing to children are helpful while mom and dad enjoy a meal and a glass of wine. It's also important to have kids try different foods and explore new flavors. But maybe the time for trying new things is at home, not when you're out at a restaurant just trying to get your children to eat.

Chef Eric O'Neill, SmartKitchen.com

Absolutely. Kids' palates are essentially blank canvases. Assuming the child doesn't have any food allergies or health conditions, introduce as many flavors and ingredients as possible. It's the parents' responsibility to learn how to cook and provide to the best of their ability. I agree with kid-sized portions to help manage child obesity. If you cook good food, any age will like it.

Chef Gregory Wiener, Top of the Rock

Not until Americans embrace a healthier life style. We get some parents who want their children to eat healthy; however, you'd be amazed at the choices they make for their kids. We offer healthy options throughout our menu, and the pool menu doesn't offer chicken strips, but it's still one of our bestsellers. People want what's familiar. Most parents want to feed their children as cheaply as possible. That means offering small portions and prices. Battered chicken is cheaper than salmon with quinoa.

Aaron Eckburg, Owner, Go Lb. Salt

Yes. What you make for the adults you should make for everyone. Some ingredients might be offered with more reserve, but nothing should be left off the table. Never cook down to a kid, you might be keeping them from their new favorite food and kids' tastes change on a dime. Kid food is an excuse to continue serving the same things over and over. That's not a choice, that's an absence of choice.

Chef Maurice Gordon, The Westin Phoenix Downtown

Kids should experience a variety of foods. If they are exposed to more foods, they will have less of a tendency to lean toward unhealthy foods or comfort foods such as pizza, chicken fingers, etc. Kids menus should be filled with items that are also featured on the regular menu, just in smaller portions for the kids.

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