The watermelon smile – how eating out with kids could be so much easier (& healthier)

The following piece comes from our newest regular contributor, Sarah Dwyer. Sarah’s first article, Let’s get physical!, detailed the concerning statistics around overweight and obese Australians and emphasised the importance of initiatives like Premier’s Active April. Her follow-up, The watermelon smile, explores the potential benefits of The Healthy Kids Menu concept. 

We’ve all been there. It’s the weekend, everyone’s a bit restless, there’s not much in the fridge and you think, why don’t we go to a café or a restaurant for lunch; the change of scenery will entertain us and there’s one less meal to think about (and clean up after!). Yet when you arrive and look at the kids’ menu, it’s often chicken nuggets and chips, pizza, pasta bolognaise (if you’re lucky!), and maybe a scoop of ice-cream, or jelly in a cup, for dessert. If you think about it, not much has changed since we were kids! Though we know these options will be loved by the little rascals, it’s obvious how unhealthy they are from a nutritional perspective. With eating out now part of the broader Australian culture, and with an average of almost $200 per month spent on restaurant meals per household, this needs to be addressed.

Generally, food that is purchased away from the home environment is often poorer in nutritional quality, higher in total calories, fat, and salt, and often served in larger portions. Combined with the lack of variety and choice on kids’ menus, this makes it increasingly difficult for us as parents to find healthy options for our children when dining out. Yet thankfully, it appears there’s still hope…

I recently came across an initiative called The Healthy Kids Menu and I love the simplicity of the concept. Cafés, restaurants, pubs, and even surf lifesaving clubs can join by ensuring at least half of all kids’ menu options are healthy and that healthy drinks are offered to children, with free and readily accessible water. Once this occurs, the business can display the ‘watermelon smile’ logo that lets parents know the venue is a Healthy Kids Menu venue. Note: current participating venues in SA are listed on the initiative’s website.

If more food outlets took these simple steps to provide a greater selection of nutritious food for kids, it would help parents promote healthier, delicious and affordable food when dining out, thus making it easier for them to make nutritious choices for themselves and their families. Another benefit is that children will experience how eating healthy foods can be fun and tasty, while parents can rest assured their kids are receiving the nutrients they need to grow, learn and play.

It will take a sustained, community-wide effort to challenge the norm in kids’ menus and eating out, but I truly hope this initiative is the start of something. I know it’s not the easiest option for cafés and restaurants to amend their menus, but ultimately, as the health message spreads in the hospitality industry and more parents get on board, I expect we’ll see more venues adopting the watermelon smile to identify their healthier menu options.

So if you have a local café or restaurant that you often visit with your kids, why not have a chat with the manager and see if they’d be open to adopting the Healthy Kids Menu.

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