The birth of the children’s menu

1947 Union Pacific Railroad Menu

Photo of 1947 children’s menu from Flickr user John Atherton, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last month Slate ran a fascinating article by Michele Humes that was subtitled “A brief history of the children’s menu.” A she describes,

When the English novelist Anthony Trollope toured the United States in 1861… he was astonished to see 5-year-old “embryo senators” who ordered dinner with sublime confidence and displayed “epicurean delight” at the fish course.

Prohibition spelled the end for 5-year-old epicures. Taking effect in January 1920, the dry laws forced the hospitality industry to rethink its policy on children: Could it be that this untapped market could help offset all that lost liquor revenue? The Waldorf-Astoria in New York thought so, and in 1921 it became one of the first establishments to beckon to children with a menu of their very own. But even as restaurants began to invite children in, it was with a new limitation: They could no longer eat what their parents ate.

Humes identifies pediatrician Emmett Holt as the the early 20th century’s chief designer of children’s nutrition guidelines, a “hodgepodge of medicine and morality” that dictated to “mothers, nurses, and, apparently, chefs that young children were not to be given fresh fruits, nuts, or raisins in their rice pudding. Pies, tarts, and indeed ‘pastry of every description’ were ‘especially forbidden,’ and on no account were such items as ham, bacon, corn, cod, tomato soup, or lemonade to pass a child’s lips before his 10th birthday.”

The full article is well worth a read, especially since it encourages a questioning of the current state and continued existence of the children’s menu. Check it out here.


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