About 100 years ago the notion of special nutrition for children started coming to the fore. The perils of malnutrition, poor food preservation, and poverty were slowly revealed to be bad for children’s health. The kid’s menu developed over decades and certainly have changed over time. Bearing little resemblance to present day children’s menus, the first meals specially for tots would most likely be outright refused by most kids today.
Some items pulled from kid’s menus between 1921 and 1950 are as follows:
-pablum (alfalfa & oat porridge)
-flaked chicken over rice
-creamed chicken on toast
At the time nutrition for children was thought of as something different from adults, with bland dishes served as an antidote to spoiling kids with yummy treats. These dishes were thought to stick to the ribs and often lacked spice or fresh fruits and vegetables.
Prohibition helped to cement the children’s menu in many restaurants because businesses sought to make up for the money lost when they could no longer serve alcohol. Before Prohibition many bars and taverns that served food would not have even allowed women and children to enter their premises!
Seizing an opportunity for growth, hotels and restaurants began to offer children’s menus and parents grew accustomed to the reduced prices of the tiny meals. Two early innovators were Marshall Fields in 1916 and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1921, each offering carefully-selected menu items for children.
Masks, coloring books, and animal-themed materials kept kids occupied and a new menu genre was cemented into American life. The craze for chicken nuggets, tater tots, hot dogs, french fries, and fish sticks as children’s items could only have happened after the huge popularity of diner and fast food chains swept the nation. Prior to that that, children ordering at a restaurant were more likely to be offered creamed chicken on toast than chicken fingers!
Fresh vegetables and fruits were sometimes thought of as dangerous for children, as parents and nutritionists recalled the upset tummies when too much fruit is eaten and presumed that fruit could be dangerous for small children. Fruit was often not even an option and vegetables were always cooked.
Our changing tastes mean that many children today might expect to see apple slices or baby carrots in a their meals, but this was not so when the kid’s menu was still coming of age. High school lunch menus show that fresh fruit was offered in the 1910s and 1920s, so there was a minimum age at which you were allowed these suspect foods. But, around the turn of the century fresh fruit was still thought to be potentially harmful to young children.
While we now have a much bigger range of safe foods to eat, the kid’s menu at most restaurants these days bears little resemblance to what children were being served 100 years ago. We dare say that a modern child might not even know what to order from an old-fashioned kid’s menu!