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The Caterer

Healthy eating for kids

12 May 2005
Healthy eating for kids

Whilst Jamie Oliver has been working hard to improve the nutritional content of school meals, many chefs and restaurateurs around the country have also been re-vamping the menus they offer children. Not only are they aware of Government statistics that highlight the growing levels of obesity and related health problems afflicting British children, but they are also responding to pressure from parents who want to be offered healthy options for their children.

Mums and Dads are no longer content with children's menus that serve the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips that, more likely than not, are mass produced and manufactured from cheap ingredients. Instead, they want to see their children being served quality, cooked in a healthy way.

Quality food for children

Raymond Blanc, for many years, has led the way in serving high quality, freshly cooked food to children, who are always made to feel welcome at his two-Michelin starred restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire.

"I think it is every bit as important for our youngest guests to have a menu that is tasty, made of the highest quality ingredients and wholesome, as it is for their parents and guardians to enjoy the finest cuisine," says Blanc.

Home-made smoothies

At the eight-strong London-based family restaurant chain of Giraffe - voted Best for Kids in the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2005 - the emphais is on "yummy, fresh and healthy eating" for children and adults alike.

"The food we serve to kids is nutritious as well as being child friendly,"says Juliet Joffe, Giraffe's owner. "That means we may serve beefburgers, but only those made using the best rump steak, and chicken nuggets made from whole pieces of chicken breast."

Particularly popular with kids at Giraffe are the home-made smoothies made from fresh fruit such as mango, papaya, pineapple, apple or pear, and fresh milk.

In the north-east of England, Paul Heathcote is keen to welcome and encourage children to eat out at the various outlets within his group of Heathcotes Restaurants, which includes five Simply Heathcotes and four Olive Press Pizzeria Bar & Grills.

As well being able to choose small portions from the main menu, children can also select from a kids' menu that offers the likes of roast chicken breast with mashed potatoes or chips, gravy and vegetables, tuna and bean salad with mayoannaise, and pasta with a choice of chicken, bacon, tuna and tomato, or cheese.

Healthy choices at fast food restaurants

Fast food restaurants, too, are including healthy choices for children on their menus. McDonald's, in particular, is keen to cast off its image as a purveyor of unhealthy food by cutting back on the salt content of products and by offering fresh fruit and vegetables to enable parents achieve the recommended five-portions-per-day for their children. Carrot sticks, fruit bags - containing apples and grapes - and jellies made from 99% real fruit juice are now available in McDonald's outlets throughout the UK.

Healthy food tips for children
•Cut back on salt levels in children's dishes.
•Make fat chips rather than thin chips as they absorb less fat.
•Serve crudities of baby carrots, celery, red pepper, asparagus and firm lettuce leaves such as cos and romaine, together with boiled eggs as a starter. Accompany them with a dip of cream cheese and chives or yoghurt and mint.
•Vegetables soups are a hit with children and extremely nutritious - try tomato and courgette, sweet potato and red pepper, or roasted root veggies.
•Try a stir-fry such as chicken or prawns with strips of carrots and sugar snap peas. Add some zing with five-spice powder, a little red chilli, ginger, garlic and soy sauce and sweeten with a drizzle of honey.
•Pasta is always popular and a good way of feeding vegetables to children as the accompanying sauce can include a myriad of fresh produce including tomatoes, carrots, courgettes, sweet potatoes and red peppers. Finish with a sprinkle of basil and a serving of Parmesan on the side.
•Make a fish pie using fresh cod or haddock combined in a cheesy sauce with chopped hard, boiled eggs and spinach, topped with mashed potato.
•Offer lamb cutlets or chicken legs with a fresh tomato and basil sauce - children love to chew on bones.
•Serve children's portions of beef stew and herb dumplings or chicken, leek and tarragon casserole, which can also be enjoyed by adults.
•Always offer fresh fruit - preferably laid out attractively on a platter - for dessert.
•Fruit crumbles - such as apple, peach, plum and rhubarb - are enjoyed by children.
•Instead of fizzy drinks, make sure you have fresh fruit juices and water available, or make fresh fruit smoothies using milk or yoghurt and ripe fresh fruit such as mango, bananas and peaches.

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