CHICKEN nuggets get a bad rap but the some Bendigo restaurateurs say parents would riot if they did not have what has become a go-to meal for children on their menu.
As momentum builds for healthier menus for young eaters, it seems there is still a place for chicken nuggets as a convenience food so that parents can enjoy meal out without worrying about choices for picky kids.
But Bendigo Health director healthy communities Andy Sloane advises to make nuggets the last item on the menu.
Ms Sloane and Bendigo Weekly journalist Sharon Kemp visited some of Bendigo’s eateries.
There is a campaign under way that calls for the death of the chicken nugget, which sounds harsh until you see, and hear, that the nugget is routinely the only meal on a child’s menu for which nothing is house-made.
Talking to Bendigo chefs and managers, that it is still not the reason it remains on menus for kids.
Most of the restaurants that had nuggets as a menu item would prefer it was not there, but they say parents would be upset if nuggets weren’t an option.
In saying that, such is the cringe factor surrounding chicken nuggets these days, none of the restaurants that offered “the nug” would agree to talk on the record.
Those who deliberately stayed away from the frozen-to-fryer food in the category of the nugget say they want to offer something different to children.
Schnitz Bendigo franchisee Rony Argente said the chain worked to offer meals from quality cuts of chicken, breaded and cooked in the restaurant with sides including salads.
He said the chain was also increasing a healthier choice of drinks for kids.
It was a deliberate marketing choice that emphasised house-made food.
Some restaurants over time have gained a loyal dining clientele whose children know what to expect from their menu.
For Taylor Sloan, owner of pizza bar JoJoes, the absence of a deep fryer means options are already healthier and include pasta and design your own pizzas for kids.
But he was flexible and would prepare a different choice for a child if he was asked.
“We are open to be the flexible if someone asks,” Mr Sloan said.
“If it is a healthy choice, then even better.”
The consensus among restaurateurs is that parents are not often asking for healthier choices for their children, even though all of the eight we talked to said they would happily accommodate them.
For healthier options and to challenge young tastebuds, parents could also consider dining at restaurants offering international cuisines.
That is because, like Restaurante Galicia which offers Spanish food and Tandoori Mahal which serves Indian, there are no kids menus nor meal deals which includes a drink which is often a soft drink.
Children usually eat what their parents order and there is not a chicken nugget in sight.
Ms Sloane said social economic advantage can play a part in what children eat when they are dining out with parents.
Dinner eaten for the food experience is likely to be in a restaurant which is a little more expensive and in which parents want to share the experience with their children.
She is careful not to dismiss as inferior those restaurants which serve nuggets, instead saying that the pester power of children which leads parents to ask for the convenience food, can be very persuasive.
Ms Sloane asks what if parents used the persuasion to lead a consumer-led appetite for healthier options for their children.
“It is for a whole community issue what we feed our children,” she said.
“The nuggets are just a way to put the issue on the agenda.”
Ms Sloane understands the convenience of nuggets, their one-bite size and the taste appeal for children.
She said she also understood parents gave in to their children and ordered the food they wanted to get a better dining experience for themselves.
But a few tweaks on the menu could give parents something to think about.
If you have to offer them, put chicken nuggets last on the menu, and meal deals should include water as a listed option and health desserts.
Ms Sloane also challenges parents to ask for healthy options for children because restaurants listen to customers, she said, otherwise nuggets would not be on the menu in the first place.