Kids choose new menu items for Silver Diner


Silver Diner kids' food critic Starr Ruben, 9, of Rockville. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

When you eat with your family at restaurants, do you like the choices that are on the kids’ menu? What if you had the chance to decide which foods were on it?

You’d have to taste test the food first, of course — which is what 34 kids from the Washington area did last month at Silver Diner in Rockville. Those children became food critics for a day, and they were selected because they had submitted really good, short videos explaining their qualifications for the job. (The video by Starr Ruben, 9, of Rockville took top honors, earning her one free kid’s meal at Silver Diner every week for a year. Watch her entry online at youtu.be/MPtkxYuUXoI. Always ask an adult before going online.)

Here’s why those kids got the chance: The folks who run the 13 Silver Diners serve a lot of meals to families. In February, they asked about 1,000 of their most loyal adult customers: “Who selects what your kids eat when dining out?”

No surprise! Kids do, more than twice as often as their parents. So the Silver Diner set up an official taste test at dinnertime on March 20. Sixteen of those young food critics were in the 8-to-12 age group.

The five head-to-head matchups were mostly good-for-you kinds of foods. The kid testers marked ballots about taste, the look of the food and whether they would order it again. The toughest assignment of the night seemed to be keeping their tall chefs’ hats (called toques, which rhymes with “spokes”) from falling down over their eyes. That happened quite a bit to Marjani Smith, 9, of Silver Spring.


Multigrain quesadilla vs grilled cheese on sourdough bread was one of six sets of menu items tasted by kid food critics at the Silver Diner in Rockville. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

First, they tried two kinds of sandwiches: a chicken pizza quesadilla and grilled cheese on preservative-free sourdough bread. The vote was a tie. Isabella Moutinho, 11, of Vienna, called the quesadilla bland. “But I know how to perk it up,” she said. “With a toothpick!”

But macaroni and cheese made with regular elbow pasta beat the mac and cheese made with multigrain penna pasta. Some of the kid food critics even preferred the dish with broccoli and carrots in it. “Win-win!” said executive chef and Silver Diner co-founder Ype Von Hengst.

The children left most of the grilled salmon samples on the plates, although the fish with the teriyaki sauce was more popular than the lemon-garlic sauce. “I’m saving my appetite for the French toast,” said Darshan Dhillon-Kusek, 9, of Oak Hill. Only eight of the critics said they’d ever tasted salmon before. (Have you? Every year, salmon ranks as one of the most popular types of seafood in America.)

They also gave a thumbs up to multigrain spaghetti with bison meatballs (vs. mango vegetarian stir-fry) and challah — that’s egg bread — French toast (over multigrain French toast stuffed with peanut butter and jelly.)

At the end of the session, Starr accepted her big prize with an “omigosh!” When you watch her video, you’ll notice that she talked about wanting to eat food that comes from local farms, is healthful and tastes good.

Silver Diner president and chief executive Robert Giaimo announced that the kids’ choices would appear on a new menu starting April 24. Even grown-up food critics don’t often get to make that kind of a difference.

Bonnie S. Benwick

Bonnie S. Benwick has the job most envied among cocktail-party conversations. If they only knew ... Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes: washingtonpost.com/recipes.
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