The idea of what children can eat varies SO widely by time, culture and family that it's hard to say "what kids used to eat". My family tended to just serve us less of what the adults got, but my husband's family believed kid's had "sensitive" tummies, and I don't think he ate anything that wasn't boiled or beige until he was 10. My father in law still has conniptions that I fed my son (mild) curry at 1. I took anthro as a major in Uni- and there are cultures that feed their children as my family did- but there are others with some fairl strict "restrictions" on what children should eat.
"Baby food varies from culture to culture. In many cultures, pastes of a grain and liquid are the first baby food. In the Western world until the mid-1900s, baby food was generally made at home. The industrial revolution saw the beginning of the baby food market which promoted commercial baby foods as convenience items. In the United States and Canada, babies are now often started with commercially produced iron-fortified infant cereals, and then move on to mashed fruits and vegetables. Commercial baby foods are widely available in dry, ready-to-feed and frozen forms, often in small batches (e.g. small jars) for convenience of preparation. Commercially prepared baby foods in the Netherlands were first prepared by Martinus van der Hagen through his NV Nutricia company in 1901. In United States they were first prepared commercially by Fremont Canning Company in 1928. The Beech-Nut company entered the U.S. baby food market in 1931. The first precooked dried baby food was Pablum which was originally made for sick children in the 1930s. Other commercial baby food manufacturers include Gerber, H. J. Heinz Company, Nestle, Nutricia and Organix. Some commercial baby foods have been criticized for their contents and cost. The demand from parents for organic food began to grow in the 1960s; since then, many larger commercial manufacturers have introduced organic lines of infant food.
In China and other east Asian countries, homemade baby food remains common, and babies are started on rice porridge called xifan, then move on to mashed fruits, soft vegetables, tofu and fish. In Sweden, it is common to start with mashed fruit, such as bananas, as well as oatmeal and mashed vegetables. In western Africa, maize porridge is often the first solid food given to young children.
In numerous cultures around the world, the food is sometimes pre-chewed by the caretaker of the baby in order to pulverise the food and start the digestion process"
In some of these cultures, "babies" may be as old as 3-4, as- apart from anything else, in subsistence cultures the "best" food is often fed to the chiefs and warriors for "strength"- children would not be offered large amounts of prized foods such as meat, and eat larger amounts of simple boiled grains.
The idea that bland foods are a western-american invention for children only is simply not true- as it varies widely world-wide based on what the culture has available and what they think is appropriate for children. Some places are more restrictive, others make almost no differentiation of menu outside of infancy.
Children's menu's in restaurants are not new either:http://www.flickr.com/photos/sa_steve/2791264936/http://www.gjenvick.com/VintageMenus/ChildrenslMenus/1924-10-01-ChildrensPartyMenu-Aquitania.html#axzz2HoqqGjOChttp://www.myvintagegeneration.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/IMG_0012.jpg
With items that wouldn't be foreign on a standard chain restaurant children's menu today. Yes, there are some restaurant vintage menus with more "adult" children's meals- but to be fair, Boston Pizza has salmon on their children's menu today, and Montana's has a child's size order of rib tips.It certainly is true that many children's menus heavily feature mac-and-cheese type options- but then again, chain restaurants in general trend towards bland meals for adults as well. Fancier restaurants may see fewer children, so they find it easier to stock a few "basic" items that most kids will eat- figuring those with more adventurous palates will probably end up ordering regular food. Many non-chain restaurants will make a "half order" for a child if asked.