Children's Menus - Where are the Pictures?

First off, I want to welcome you to my blog. My goal is to provide a source for innovative ideas and articles, that can be used to help parents or children learn, be successful and creative. Feel free to start the conversation as well! Commentary is more than welcome, below, or send me an email!

Now, for my first blog.

As summer is finally here, children are out of school, a lot of us like to take a well-deserved break from the kitchen and go out. Taking a night out at the local restaurant is great. It's a change of scenery and encourages family bonding. And, not only do you not have to cook, you can easily choose from any cuisine out there. Plus, menus tend to be a mix of flavors for even the pickiest of eaters!

A little while back, a thought occurred to me. I noticed a ton of popular restaurant chains in the area revamping their menus, even cutting back on the size of the menus they provide (such as switching from a folding menu to a double sided, oversized page). I thought, I wonder if kid's menus saw the same change. In fact, kid's menus were being added to the last page of the main dining menu!

I asked to see if they had a kid's menu at one local joint. I wanted to see what they offered. And it isn't much. When I was little, kid's menu's were great. They had coloring portions, games, and pictures. Now, kid's menu's dont have photos of the food! There is much less imagery in general anyway on menus, as restaurants are going for a more "plain" look.

Now, I can understand simplifying costs by cutting down on menu sizes, maybe ink by removing pictures. But, photos help patrons know what they could be ordering. And for kids, it allows them to learn what each item is, and order for themselves. Looking around the restaurant, I often see parents reading the menu to their children, explaining the options, and then ordering on the child's behalf.

What if pictures were beside each menu option for children? Would that enable a child to make a connection between the words and the visuals on the page? It's great for a parent to engage with their child over a menu, but what would really be beneficial is teaching self-sufficiency for a child to be able to order for themselves. If children's menus were more visual, I think it would be a great opportunity to teach children how to be independent in in real life. It's a social skill for children to learn. Visual menus, in my opinion, will help encourage that at a much earlier age. Rather than the parent saying "Sarah will have the pizza, with a side of fries", Sarah (who might not even know how to read yet, or could be non-verbal), could say to the server "I would like the pizza, with a side of fries" just by pointing to the pictures.

Having a child order for themselves is a great social skill. It can boost reading comprehension, communication, and self-confidence in social settings. It would likely make them feel proud and want to continue to order for themselves each subsequent time.

Where I have noticed visual menus most often, is fast-food chains. All their menu's are visual. And some, even now have self-serve computer screens that you can click on the IMAGE of the item you want. It's a great marketing/interactivity program, but it's strange that sit down family restaurants are more text and paper, whereas a family fast-food joint includes the pictures as well.

The pictures, on another note, would help strengthen reading comprehension for the child. It shows and explains what they can order, and would be able to associate the words with it. Now, in individuals with autism, or learning disabilities, visual menus would make it so much easier for them. Even people with ESL would benefit. Images with the text enable an individual who has a hard time reading, hard time speaking, or anything that could hinder them from ordering food for themselves, to actually ask for what they want on their own.

One example I have, with a client (who has Autism), who's never been given the opportunity to order for themselves, was to guide them towards that goal. We picked a nearby fast-food restaurant as our target location, because of it's interactive and visual menus. It would make it much easier to help my client start learning how to order food for them self. Before, going, we studied the menu, practiced the situation in a safe scenario. I would be the cashier, they would be the patron. I would encourage them as much as I could, without prompting, and we worked on this for a few days. We worked up to a per-determined date that would be our "field trip" and real-life "experience". My client even circled it on their calendar, excited about the end goal.

Then, the day came. They said they were a little nervous. I encouraged them, said how much progress they'd made during our practice scenarios. I knew they was ready and reassured them, I would be at their side the whole time. We walked to the restaurant and stood in line. They looked at me nervous, as if they would want to turn around. I told them how proud I was that we reached this point, I knew they could do this.

It was their turn. The waitress asked "how may I help you"? My client pointed to the picture on the menu above the cashier and said out loud, in a clear voice, "I want cheeseburger and fries, please." I helped them count the money, they handed it to the cashier. They looked at me so proud when we left, so happy. I knew it was just the start for them. I could see the self-confidence boost it gave them. And, it was amazing seeing them succeed after all the hard work they put in. They were so excited, they shared it with everybody. I believe they order for themselves now, all the time!

Now, there are so many pros for children's menus to have pictures on them, along with the words:

1) The pictures become a tool for children to use to help understand the menu on their own

2) The pictures boost memory and reading comprehension as the child can associate the image with the word and vice versa

3) By having the ability to order for themselves, it boosts confidence and cultures independence

4) Ordering for themselves further boosts communication and social interaction

Knowing that the amount of restaurants with visual kid's menus are far and few, I felt like a good learning experience could arise from devising a template. This template would not include every single menu option one might find on a kid's menu, but through research, it does have the most popular dishes. Feel free to print and take with you on your trips to a restaurant. See if it helps you or your child feel more comfortable ordering for yourself. If you use it and it helps, great! Let me know! I would love to hear your thoughts!

Learning Menu Tool

#menu #child #autism #ABA #learningdisabilities #independence #advocacy #self #learning #nightout #food