Menuing drinks for kids is a minefield. Serve tasty treats to appeal to tykes and you risk getting slammed for unhealthful beverage choices. Offer wholesome drinks and kids turn up their noses. But wooing the kids is one way to win over the parents—and get the whole family to dine.
What to put on the beverage menu is a thorny problem. Soft drinks? That’s a same-old, same-old selection; all your competitors offer sodas, as does the C-store down the street. Plus, rightly or wrongly, carbonated soft drinks continue to come under attack for contributing to the obesity crisis. Soda sales have been steadily declining over the past few years. Energy drinks have picked up the slack, but with their jittery caffeine content and additives like taurine and guarana, these high-amp beverages may not be the best choice for children—you don’t want them bouncing off the restaurant walls.
How about juice drinks? These alternatives may also contain a surfeit of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Be sure to check labels.
There are other concerns with juice drinks as well. A recent study in California by the Environmental Law Foundation found traces of lead in some juices—levels high enough to require a warning label under the stringent California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Scores of samples of brand-name grape and apple juices—including some certified organic products—registered significant levels of lead, according to the foundation.
If modern quaffs don’t satisfy, look to the past. One old kiddie standby, the Shirley Temple, still has currency in some contemporary restaurants. Named for the child actress, it was invented, so the story goes, by a bartender
at Beverly Hills celeb hangout Chasen’s in honor of the star’s 10th birthday in 1938. (Another account claims the drink was created in Hawaii.) The mocktail was originally mixed with ginger ale, orange juice and a splash of grenadine, served on the rocks and garnished with an orange wheel and maraschino cherry to mimic an adult cocktail.
The King of Cowboys, Roy Rogers, also has a namesake mocktail for his little pardners. The Roy Rogers adds a dash of grenadine to cola soda and sports a similar grown-up garnish.
It plays off the whole wine flight thing that’s so popular with adults,” says Gordon McConnell, GM at the Wolfgang Puck Grand Café in Orlando, Florida. He’s talking about the restaurant’s milk flight for kids.
“We were revamping our kids menu to include some sushi options,” explains McConnell. A California Roll was added as was the flight of milks as a beverage choice.
Located in the Downtown Disney Marketplace, the café naturally caters to children. Among the usual kid-pleasers like Chicken Tenders and Spaghetti and Meatballs, the Kids Menu includes more sophisticated entrees like Grilled Chicken and Salmon and Apple Sauce. In the Picky Eaters section is a “Crazy” California Roll, with ham and cheddar inside and a pineapple glaze and goldfish crackers outside.
On the drinks side, besides the usual juices and soft drinks, is the milk flight. The flight of milks consists of three flavors: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, priced at $4.95. Playing up the presentation is a small tray holding the three prepackaged Chugs from T. G. Lee, says McConnell.
Just like adults, kids like to compare the three flavors. However, points out the GM, many parents allow kids only one serving of milk at a meal.
The emphasis is on healthy choices for kids at India Restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, and that includes the beverage selection.
Children can choose from wholesome dishes like Saag Paneer with tofu, a baked Vegetable Samosa and a grilled naan Vegetable Pizza.
Besides the usual soft drinks, juices and chocolate milk, adventurous children can also sip a Mango Colada or Mango Lassi. All drinks are $2.50.
The Colada is made with mango nectar, pineapple juice and a dash of cream of coconut. A traditional Indian drink, the Lassi is a mango-flavored yogurt shake. Both are kid favorites.
Equally popular is the restaurant’s riff on the classic Shirley Temple mocktail. Instead of the usual ginger ale-OJ mix, it’s made with lemon-lime soda and grenadine syrup. “The Shirley Temple has a fun presentation,” says manager Kashem Dewan. “It’s garnished with maraschino cherries and a slice of orange. The kids like that.”
Currently, India Restaurant is developing a new drinks menu for the spring and summer, which will offer kids even more healthy choices, says the manager.