Paying attention to children and their menus
Patrick Noone addresses the topic of children's menus in the Technomic blog - children's food has, of course, been the subject of recent adverse reporting (see link to H & C News' recent article).
Health and wellness concerns
The same culinary and cultural trends driving changes on menus for adults are spurring rethinking of kids' menus, too. Health and wellness are top concerns. While debates about causes of and solutions for childhood obesity continue, restaurant operators are responding to parents' demands for more-healthful options, and fresh fruits and vegetables figure more prominently on many restaurant chains' menus.
Operators are increasingly looking to incorporate fruits and veg into kids' mains, much as many parents are doing in their own homes. As a result, we're seeing spaghetti sauce that incorporates sweet red pepper (Wacky Warehouse), and a baked chicken breast served with roasted new potatoes, green beans and a tomato-and-basil dipping sauce (Bella Italia). Selections such as these offer flavourful options for kids with more-adventurous palates and give parents a choice they may feel better about for their children.
Experimenting with ingredients and cuisines
Many kids are following their parents in experimenting with a wider variety of ingredients and cuisines. This is a generation of kids that sees chefs all over TV (and, maybe, in school), that's familiar with cooking competitions, and that is exposed to a broader variety of global flavour influences at a young age than its members' parents were.
Recognizing this, chains such as Gusto are offering items from the adult menu in child-size portions. All of Gusto's main-menu pasta dishes are available in smaller sizes. Similarly, Brewers Fayre offers young guests a scaled-down version of a British classic: beef and onion pie.
Dietary restrictions and preferences are also important: gluten-free and vegetarian options are trending upward on kids' menus at U.K. chains in the past year, according to Technomic's MenuMonitor database. Chains answering the call for kids' items to meet a variety of dietary needs include Beefeater Grill, which menus a chilli made with Quorn, a meat substitute, and Zizzi's, where pasta dishes can be made with gluten-free fusilli.
For those concepts looking to grab a share of families' dining money, it may be worthwhile to revisit kids' menu choices. The attention paid to that once-neglected portion of the menu can be of surprising consequence in determining whether one-time visitors will turn into repeat guests.
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