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Let's get imaginative with our kids' menus

IF I ever see another chicken nugget again I think I'm going to cry. We've just returned from a week's holiday around Ireland and the mere thought of a 'kids' menu' brings me out in a cold sweat.

Dining out should be a fun experience, a time when you don't really mind the kids eating something less healthy than usual. But what do you do when you're faced with eight consecutive days of kids' menus serving up the same old 'favourites'?

Chicken nuggets and chips, fish goujons and chips, sausages and chips... you get the picture.

I can't understand how any serious chef would feel happy dishing up so much fried food to children. There's nothing wrong with good quality sausages, but instead of chips why not serve them with mash and peas or beans? It's still a tasty, filling meal, complete with a five-a-day portion.

The same goes for fish goujons -- those ubiquitous deep-fried breaded pieces of white fish. It's great that children are eating fish, but I suspect some of them think the damn creature has been caught already covered in golden crumbs.

Very few places seem to offer children the choice of real fish, which creates a vicious circle. If they're only ever being served breaded fish how can kids be expected to know how good a simple piece of cod or salmon tastes?

The same goes for chicken nuggets. Kids universally love chicken, so there's really no need to wrap the tasty meat up in a breadcrumb shell and plunge it into cooking fat.

Despite this obvious fact, few restaurants are brave enough to put a delicious roast chicken breast on their children's menu. Cafe Sol in Kilkenny is one of a small number of places bucking the trend. Alongside Irish chicken breast and mash for €4.50, they also offer kids things like salmon with veg or homemade fishcakes.

Thankfully, you will always find innovative restaurateurs along the way, but sadly they are the exception rather than the rule. The Ely group of restaurants has imaginative kids' menus, offering grilled catch of the day with rice or fresh veg, omelettes and organic meatballs.

O'Brien Chop House in Lismore, Co Waterford, is another establishment where kids can choose roast free-range chicken breast with mash, peas and gravy for €6.75.

These are three of over 70 restaurants that have signed up to Kids Size Me, an initiative between the Nutrition and Health Foundation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland (although considering the RAI has over 600 members, it's a pretty disappointing amount). The initiative encourages restaurants to offer child-size portions of adult meals, at a discounted rate. This means adventurous kids can also order off the main menu, where in theory they'll have access to a wider choice of more balanced meals.

Participants can be viewed at www.wheretoeat.ie.

At the end of a long week of spaghetti Bolognese overload, my heart soared when I spotted grilled salmon fillet with baby potatoes and garden vegetables on the kids' menu at Fota Island Resort in Cork. Other restaurateurs -- please take note.