Special Events

Kid-Friendly Menus go from Hot Dogs to Sushis

Children are known for persnickety palates. So how do caterers get creative with children's menus yet avoid getting scrunched-up noses for their efforts? Here, catering experts discuss how to pique the interest of the picky through innovative presentation and food items that range from old standbys to novel trends — while sating parents' palates too.

OUT TO THE BALLGAME

If a child says, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,” Boston's Fenway Park is happy to oblige. “We have a built-in menu for kids that has been in place for years and years,” says senior executive chef Ronald Abell of the Aramark-run operation. This includes such ballpark favorites as hot dogs, pizza, and, yes, peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Food presentation also mimics the feel of game days, with popcorn machines, ice cream carts serving sundaes in mini Red Sox helmets, and hawkers throwing out food. And while Abell likes to “prepare and present food in the most straightforward and non-fussy way possible [because] kids are drawn to that,” he doesn't omit the out-of-the-ordinary from his menu. According to Abell, kids often love adult hors d'oeuvre, such as arancini, or rice croquettes.

FENWAY PARK FAVES

Kid and Adult Hors d'oeuvre Bar Mitzvah Menu

Antipasti

Arancini

Smoked Salmon Lollipops

Smoked Chicken Quesadillas

Concession-style Kid Menu

Italian Sausages with Peppers and Onions

Hebrew National Brand Stadium Hot Dogs in foil wrappers

Spicy French Fries

Corn on the Cob

Buffet-style Adult Menu

Beef Bourguignon

Chatham Cod with Buttered Breadcrumbs and Lemon

Potato Gnocchi with Chicken, Spinach, White Wine and Cream

Eggplant Parmesan

NOT-SO-FOREIGN FOODS

Everybody is open to ethnic foods these days, young adults included. Sarah Finlayson, creative services manager of Blue Plate in Chicago, often opts for ethnic fare to add interest to youth-oriented menus. Asian food in particular, she says, can be “a fun departure from the usual chicken strips and French fries.” In fact, Finlayson notes that sushi, such as Blue Plate's “free-form maki,” is often requested for both adult and children menus. Italian food, too, is a crowd-pleaser but still leaves plenty of room for innovation, such as macaroni and cheese with goat cheese, grapes and walnuts. And Finlayson says both children and adults appreciate festive presentations such as Chinese to-go boxes for noodle salads, passed hors d'oeuvre on miso spoons and house-made potato chips in paper cones placed in custom wooden cone holders.

BLUE PLATE SPECIALS

Passed Hors d'oeuvre Graduation Celebration Teen Menu

Hot Pretzels with Cheddar Dipping Sauce

Italian Cold Cut Capicola and Provolone Panini Lollipops

Free-form Maki with Spicy Rock Shrimp and Togarshi-seasoned Aioli

Mini Cheeseburgers

Passed Hors d'oeuvre Adult Menu

Seared Sesame-encrusted Tuna with Wasabi Aioli on Won Ton Crisps

Petit White Japanese Eggplant Caviar and Pecorino

Petit Fried Green Zebra Tomatoes with Peekytoe Crab and Pecans

New York Strip with Artichoke and Black Truffle Mousse

Teen Menu

Classic Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Flank Steak

Breaded Parmesan Chicken Breast with Zesty Tomato Dip

Penne with Marinara Sauce

Adult Menu

Chipotle-glazed Grilled Shrimp atop Corn Salad with Tomatillo Salsa

Peach, Mozzarella and Basil Salad

Chilled, Marinated Salmon with Frisee Salad and Cilantro Vinaigrette

Peppercorn-crusted Tenderloin with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Spinach

THEY DO IT THEIR WAY

Interactive is the way to go for the youth market, according to Michele Polci, CPCE, director of catering sales at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. And while Rio doesn't actively solicit this market because they are a gaming facility, Polci has worked on her share of events designed for kids. “If kids are involved in it, they're interested in it,” she says. At one party, the guest of honor requested an “Iron Chef”-style fête, with chefs cooking food in front of the crowd. Make-your-own pizza is a popular choice for children's events also — that way kids can request “cheese, cheese and more cheese,” if they like, Polci says.

And foods that are old favorites can take on new life with some creativity. For example, innovative naming can give common children's fare a spin — at an outer space-theme party, Polci served “Pluto dogs” instead of hot dogs and “Saturn rings” instead of onion rings. And a fresh approach to French fries is easy enough. Polci notes such options as waffle-cut or curly, a sweet potato variation or cheese dipping sauce. She notes palate surprises for the young as well — coffee-flavored desserts are popular, and protein-based menus are less common. In fact, Polci says a vegetarian option is essential for kid menus these days.

RIO HOTEL'S WINNERS

“Younger Guests” Menu

“Shake It Up” Popcorn, shaken in a lunch bag with Cheese, Sour Cream and Onion, or Cinnamon-Apple Spice Powder

“Build It Up” Sweet Potato, Waffle-cut and Curly Fries served in paper cones; Mini Hamburgers and Corn Dogs wrapped to go; and Chili with Toppings

“Top It Off” Pizzas

“Design It” Candy Necklaces with Flavored and Colored Sugar Candy

“If You are Old Enough to Drive, You Might Enjoy” Menu

“You Choose It, We Toss It” Salad Station

“Everyone Loves Pasta” with Pumpkin Raviolis with Butter Pecan Sauce or Spinach and Crab Tortellini

“Trio of Tenderloin Saute Station” with Veal, Pork and Chicken served with Pineapple Salsa, Apricot and Cinnamon Chutney, or Cherry and Port Wine Reduction

RESOURCES

Blue Plate
312/377-0930
www.blueplatechicago.com

Fenway Park
617/226-6791
boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/events/index.jsp

Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino
877/MEET-702
www.lvmeetingsby harrahs.com

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