Adios, Hot Dogs and French Fries

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SoCal restaurants offer kids menus with sophisticated, tasty and nutritious options.

By Mary Harpin

As trends like farm-to-table and truth-in-menu gain momentum, parents no longer assume their kids’ palates are limited to plain noodles, grilled cheese and hot dogs, and restaurateurs know it. Chef Azmin Ghahreman, owner and founder of Sapphire Laguna and Sapphire at School, which provides fresh and healthy school lunches, doesn’t buy the notion that kids won’t try sophisticated food, or that it’s OK to hide the veggies under pasta. “I won’t serve anything I wouldn’t serve my own kids,” Ghahreman says. The entire menu at Sapphire Laguna reflects the value he places on seasonal, sustainable, delicious and healthy foods for everyone.

Giving kids choices and exposing them to variety can help open them up to trying new things, Ghahreman says. “Teach them the names of things; a turnip, rutabaga, artichoke. Let them see all the colors of pepper, the world of tomatoes. Tell them [healthy food] is the rainbow of the world. Then they’ll go for it.”

More menus offer either healthier versions of the foods kids have come to expect, like whole grain pasta and more nutritious sauces, or smaller portions of “adult” food. Here are a few spots in Southern California where you won’t have to talk your kid out of ordering the chicken nuggets.

Sushi Roku

33 Miller Alley, Pasadena

Sushi Combination Bento Box

The kid’s menu at Sushi Roku looks a whole lot like a mini-adult menu, but it is designed to encourage kids to try the textures and flavors of modern Japanese dishes. Youngsters choose between a wholesome protein—beef, chicken or sushi—and sides like applesauce, broccoli or edamame. They can also play with a Busy Bento box along with their meal—a toy box with all the things they need to pretend to be a sushi chef.

True Food Kitchen, Fashion Island
451 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach

True Food Kitchen, started by health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, builds its menu around anti-inflammatory ingredients and healthy, creative recipes. Kids can try an almond butter, banana and strawberry sandwich with veggies and tzatziki, a chicken and veggie teriyaki bowl or a mozzarella and organic tomato pizza. And there are plenty of options for children (and adults) with allergies or dietary restrictions.

Fig & Olive, Fashion Island
151 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach

Inspired by the best fresh ingredients from the French Riviera, the kid’s menu is a creative take on favorites like pizza (tomato, mozzarella and basil on puff pastry crust), chicken fingers, which are lightly breaded and served with tomato basil dip and skinny fries, along with signature dishes like lemon sole fish croquettes and pasta with olive oil and tomato mascarpone pesto.

Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill
21119 Newport Coast Drive, Newport Beach

At Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, kids build their own bowl or “Power Plate” with items like salmon, chicken, brown rice, broccoli, yams, tofu and beans. The choose-your-own-adventure style menu gives kids plenty of choices without much room to go wrong. Your kids could order the cheese quesadilla—it’s on the menu— but they probably won’t want to.