The Kid Stays in the Picture 

Going to a nice restaurant? Don't forget the children.

If you ask someone in Memphis to name a kid-friendly restaurant, they're likely to mention a fast-food chain, perhaps one that features a singing mouse. While these restaurants clearly cater to kids, not all would agree that they are "kid-friendly." Children need authentic restaurant experiences so that they don't associate eating out with screaming, running, and playing video games.

There are a wide variety of kid-friendly restaurants in Memphis that offer excellent service, nutritious food, and a pleasant atmosphere. It is important for parents to dine out with their children in order to expand what kid-friendly means.

The Chicken or the Egg

The kids' menu, the universal symbol for kid-friendly, is in desperate need of a makeover ... or complete removal. Chicken McNuggets were introduced by McDonald's in 1983, and judging by chicken nuggets' domination of kids' menus everywhere, it is hard to remember what kids ate prior to that. Are they on the menu of nearly every restaurant these days because that's the only thing kids want to eat, or do kids only want to eat them because they are on every kids' menu?

Stephanie Chockley, a 34-year-old mother of two, says, "My main problem with kids' menus isn't the entrée choice — if chicken nuggets can be considered an entrée — but the choice of side items. Why only fries?"

Shannon Dixon, 35, has a 5-year-old son who can read, which can pose another problem. "Max looks for the kids' menu, and that makes it very difficult for us to get him to try more interesting and healthier things," she says.

Colleen Couch-Smith, 30, is a mother of three and part owner of Tsunami with her husband Ben Smith. "[Ben and I] try to take our kids out often so that they know how to behave in restaurants and how to eat better food," she says. "A selection from the kids' menu can be a life saver, but we usually order an interesting appetizer for them instead."

Many of today's parents are not interested in a limited selection of fried and greasy foods for their kids but rather smaller portions of adult dishes. Angela Knipple, 34, the mother of one and a contributor to the local food blog Squirrel Squad Squeaks (squirrel-squad.blogspot.com), says, "Smaller portions allow you to give your child as good a meal as you are eating."

Parents also need to make their desires known. John Bragg, owner and chef of Circa and father of two, says even though it isn't written on the menu, smaller portions of adult entrées are available at Circa at reduced prices. Bragg is also more than happy to accommodate special requests. "If I know how to make it, I will," he says.

Early Bird Gets the Worm

When taking the kids to a fine restaurant, it is important to be respectful of other diners. Do a little research, call ahead with questions, and make an early reservation.

"I don't think that just because I had a child means I have to be barred from having dinner at a nice restaurant with her," says longtime foodie and newbie parent Melissa Sweazy, 33. "However, I do believe it requires some etiquette on my part."

Sweazy is taking a trip to New York next month, where she'll be getting a chance to mind her and her 6-month-old daughter's manners at Babbo, Mario Batali's very nice flagship restaurant. Sweazy chose Babbo after doing research on internet forums and talking with the restaurant's hostess on the phone. "They provide highchairs and did not hesitate to tell me so. I made a 5:30 p.m. reservation so as not to be there during the rush," she says.

Couch-Smith agrees that avoiding the dinner rush can make a family's dinner experience much more enjoyable for everyone. "At Tsunami, we have a family that comes in almost every Wednesday. They have three adorable children, and instead of insisting on plain pasta or chicken fingers, they get an order of risotto. We welcome families who are open-minded and intelligent enough to come in at precisely 5:45 p.m.," she says.

Dining out on weeknights and during lunch is another way to expand a family's fine-dining options. So don't be afraid to try something new with your kids. With a little forethought, the sky's the limit and the plate's nuggetless.

A few kid-friendly spots in Memphis to try:

A-Tan, 3445 Poplar (452-4477)

Beauty Shop, 966 S. Cooper (272-7111)

Boscos Squared, 2120 Madison (432-2222)

Circa, 119 S. Main (522-1488)

Jasmine, 916 S. Cooper (725-0223)

Las Tortugas, 1215 S. Germantown Pkwy. (751-1200)

Pearl's Oyster House, 299 S. Main (522-9070)

Sakura, 2060 West in Germantown (758-8181)

Sekisui, multiple locations (sekisuiusa.com)

Soul Fish, 862 S. Cooper (725-0722)

Spindini, 383 S. Main (578-2767)

Tsunami, 928 S. Cooper (274-2556)

Umai, 2015 Madison (405-4241)

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