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WATCH: Forget the Fries. Kids' Food Grows Up — Finally — at Hotels Around the World

WATCH: Forget the Fries. Kids' Food Grows Up — Finally — at Hotels Around the World
Laura Begley Bloom

Above, watch Alexander Weiss, winner of MasterChef Junior, show how to make a scone. (Video: Better TV)

Thanks to the slow food movement, food activists such as chef Alice Waters and author Michael Pollan, and better taste in general, the way we eat has transformed radically in recent years. But look at the kids’ menu at most restaurants, and the offerings read like something from the 1970s: fish fingers, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, fries. As the mother of a 22-month-old who loves to snack on broccoli (which she fondly calls “broco-lee-lee”), I find myself dismayed by the lack of healthy, pintsize options and usually just share my food with my daughter.

WATCH: Forget the Fries. Kids' Food Grows Up — Finally — at Hotels Around the World

A pintsize Westin cooking class (Photo: Westin Hotels & Resorts)

According to a Westin Hotels & Resorts survey conducted earlier this year, more than half of respondents expressed concern about the limited access to healthy food options while traveling and 41 percent of parents were worried about gaining weight while on the road. 

So it comes as welcome news that there’s a healthy movement afoot in the hospitality world. A handful of smart hoteliers are developing thoughtful kids’ menus, so that you can take even the most finicky of eaters on vacation and not feel guilty about what they’re being served.

Related: Raising Your Own Dora or Diego? Why Parents Are Using Travel to Educate Their Kids

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Cooking with the kids at Westin (Photo: Westin Hotels & Resorts)

"At Westin, our goal is for all of our guests to leave feeling better than when they arrived, including our junior guests," says Brian Povinelli, global brand leader at Westin Hotels & Resorts, which has been trailblazing in the wellness arena as of late. The company paired up with SuperChefs — a coalition of doctors, dentists, dietitians, and chefs — and excised old standards such as french fries and mac and cheese from its menus. Kids road-tested the offerings, and what did they dream up? Build-your-own salmon niçoise salad and fruit crepes and dishes like Thai chicken and apple curry with jasmine rice.

Masterchef Junior winner Alexander Weiss

MasterChef Junior winner Alexander Weiss (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

In Mexico, Karisma Hotels & Resorts is working with its own superchef: Alexander Weiss, winner of MasterChef Junior. The young celebrity chef is hosting a weekend event (Aug. 15-17) at the Generations Riviera Maya to kick off the group’s new Little Eko Chefs program. Kids will learn to make tamales, sushi, and shaved ice with natural fruit. And the kicker: The hotel is all-inclusive, so these kids’ cooking classes are free.

Westin and Karisma aren’t alone. InterContinental Hotels Group just launched a globally inspired Planet Trekkers Menu, created by chef Theo Randall and author Annabel Karmel MBE, who calls herself a “mumpreneur” and has written more than 37 books on children’s nutrition. (Look for broccoli and sweet corn fritters and berry yogurt ice cream.) Omni Hotels & Resorts is working with Cheryl Forberg R.D., nutritionist for "The Biggest Loser,” to develop a new kids’ menu and has already rolled out an ”Omni Kitchen Kids Backpack,” stocked with nutrition-themed games and goodies to promote healthy eating on vacation. 

Related: How to Eat Your Way Through Disneyland Like You’re a Kid Again

InterContinental Hotel Group kids food

InterContinental Hotels Group food advisers Annabel Karmel and Theo Randall with a group of minichefs (Photo: InterContinental Hotels Group)

Hotels are also creating interactive experiences to keep kids engaged. The Inn at Dos Brisas in Texas has a 42-acre organic farm, where kids can pick fruits and veggies for their meals. At the St. Regis Mexico City, executive chef Guy Santoro takes children shopping in the San Juan Market to source food for that night’s meal. At Fiji’s Laucala Island, pintsize guests scrape coconuts to make their own coconut milk and go fishing with the chef — and then learn to prepare what they’ve caught. Also in Fiji, the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort runs a Chef’s Junior Assistant program that allows kids, decked out in a white jacket and toque, to get involved at every stage: prepping, plating, and serving. And at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford Springs, Penn., local elementary schools are invited to compete in a Mini Iron Chef competition every year to create a healthy and creative dish for the kids’ menu.

Related: A Gift for My Daughter: Elmo’s Trip to Costa Rica

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On the kids’ menu at Laucala, in Fiji: Wagyu fillet with rosti, blistered Laucala tomatoes, and onion rings (Photo: Laucala Island)

Babies are getting the healthy treatment, too, with specially puréed food at properties such as the Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France in Saint Barts, with its “Pour les Bébés” menu, Costa Rica’s Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, and Esperanza, an Auberge Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. “We’ve made sure that all of the recipes we’ve chosen are nutritious, well-balanced, and prepared with love and passion, thinking of our guests as a part of our family,” says Esperanza’s executive chef Gonzalo Cerda, who launched the resort’s farm-to-baby food concept.

baby food Esperanza Mexico

All-natural baby food at Esperanza, in Los Cabos (Photo: Esperanza, an Auberge Resort)

But not all hotels are abandoning the standards. At Orlando’s about-to-open B Resort & Spa, the menu for Jeffrey Chodorow’s American Q includes chicken hot dogs, hormone- and antibiotic-free grass-fed burgers, and baked fish nuggets. “We wanted to offer our youngest diners the same classics they love, but in a healthy way,” said Luke Rinaman, director of operations at American Q. 

Now if only the restaurant industry would take note, we wouldn’t have to get on a plane to find a healthy meal.

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