Family

Taking the kids for healthier meals when traveling

Feb. 19, 2013 at 10:29 AM ET

Courtesy Walt Disney World /
A healthy meal of Mickey Mouse-shaped turkey meat loaf and veggies is offered at Walt Disney World's Be Our Guest restuarant.

Dig in, kids!

At Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, kids might opt for fresh fish made over an open fire or just-carved turkey or beef for lunch.

The kids' menu at the Old Wives' Tales restaurant in Portland, Ore., features sesame mashed sweet potatoes (gluten-free) and a rosemary chicken sandwich, while at Foreign Cinema restaurant in San Francisco, kids opt for organic veggies with dipping sauce.

At Aspen's new on-mountain Elk Camp restaurant at Snowmass, kids chow down on pint-sized portions of rotisserie chicken and homemade tomato soup topped with—what else—Goldfish.

But it's not just at fancy ski resorts or foodie havens where kids' menus have been overhauled. The National Restaurant Association notes that healthful kids' meals are a top 2013 restaurant trend—even at theme parks. Disney parks, in fact, have been helping to lead the way.

There's turkey meatloaf shaped like Mickey Mouse ears and orange ketchup made from carrots at Walt Disney World's New Fantasyland's Be Our Guest Restaurant. Disney Parks and Resorts now serve all kids' meals with fruits and veggies rather than fries and are reducing sodium in their kids' offerings. At Walt Disney World and Disneyland, they have just introduced the "Mickey Check" at its sit-down restaurants that makes it easier to identify healthy choices on its kids' menus.

There's not a chicken finger in sight and no one seems to miss them. Kids have evolved into more sophisticated eaters at the same time their parents "are looking to make better choices for themselves and their kids," observes Deer Valley Chef Jodie Rogers, who herself is the mom of two kids. She adds that parents also expect there to be plenty of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options without them having to ask.

We all know childhood obesity is a major problem. One in three American kids is now overweight, putting them at risk to serious medical issues, the American Heart Association warns. First Lady Michelle Obama has made combating childhood obesity a top initiative with her "Lets Move!" campaign. She suggested last summer in an interview with TakingtheKids that as parents, we can choose to frequent restaurants that give us healthier options and call on other businesses to make similar changes.

That certainly came through loud and clear at last fall's Family Travel Conference, where parents who write and blog about traveling with kids said improving kids' menus was a top concern of traveling families. (Full disclosure: I co-chaired the conference.) Here's a tip: If you don't like what you see on the kids' menu, ask to order a half-portion from the adult menu for half price.

Hotels are certainly paying attention. All of the Fairmont hotels are working to upgrade kids' menus with local ingredients, while Hyatt Hotels recently introduced a new "For Kids By Kids" menu—all tasted and approved by kids. Kids might build their own whole-wheat sub sandwich for lunch, for example. (Check out Hyatt's new HyattFlavorJourney website complete with fun facts and more about healthy eats.)

And some 30,000 restaurants—everywhere from Applebee's to Denny's to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis—now participate in the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell program that promotes innovative and healthier kids meals.

Think chicken taco or teriyaki chicken noodle bowl, rather than a cheeseburger and fries, said David Scott, the executive chef at Vail's Keystone Resort which is piloting the LiveWell program for all of Vail Resorts.

"The biggest change is in the kids' palates," said Scott. "They are much more adventurous eaters."

Parents, too. I'll have what the kids are ordering.

Eileen Ogintz is the creator of TakingtheKids and the new series of Kid’s Guides to NYC, Orlando and out next month, Washington, DC, from Globe Pequot Press. Look for Spring Break Adventures here.

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