Children's menus in restaurants are handy because they offer smaller portions at lower prices than the rest of the menu. They also have options for picky kids, which can save a family night out for parents who want to visit a specialty restaurant. But it wasn't always so.
Depending on where you stand vis-à-vis childrearing, the golden age of youth dining in America either began or ended with the Volstead Act. In the century leading up to the dry laws, children rarely ate out. A child had to be relatively well-off in order to dine in public, and a guest at a hotel to boot. (Restaurants not attached to hotels didn’t tend to serve children, reasoning that they got in the way of boozy grown-up fun.) But the lucky boy or girl who could tick these boxes was assured of a pretty good time. When the English novelist Anthony Trollope toured the United States in 1861 (his two volumes of crotchety travelogue were later published as North America), 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.
What is notable about those first children's menus are the weird, bland offerings, based on what was considered proper food for kids in those days -and it was so different from what adults ate, and extremely different from what we consider nutritional (or even palatable) today. Those first menus seem almost designed to punish a child, or at least deny him any pleasure. Of course, what we consider "good for kids" and what appears on children's menus now are two totally different things, but that's marketing! Link -via mental_floss