Restaurants 'dabble' in healthy foods for kids: Mintel

by Bryan Salvage
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CHICAGO — Today’s average kids' menu doesn't offer enough variety or healthy food, according to Mintel Menu Insights, which tracks restaurant menu trends.

In looking at kids' menus from 2005 to the present, Mintel Menu Insights sees the same foods repeated year after year. Chicken fingers steadily account for 10% of kids' menu items, followed by grilled cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese and burgers. Other top kids' menu items include hot dogs, pizza and corn dogs.

"Our research shows parents want more nutritious options for their kids, and children are open to fruits, veggies and healthier versions of standard fare," said Maria Caranfa, RD and director of Mintel Menu Insights. "The generic kids' menu really doesn't meet the needs and desires of today's families."

Only three in 10 parents said their children eat healthfully at restaurants while more than three in four children (77%) are open to ordering foods with vegetables, and six in seven (86%) would order fruit-containing items.

Although french fries remain the most common side being offered with 66% of kids' menu items, fruits and vegetables have increased in popularity (at 43% and 39%, respectively). Rice and salad, at18% each, are also being offered as kids' side options.

More restaurants are using menu descriptors to quantify health. "Fresh", which appears on 17% of items during Q2 2009, up from 8% in Q2 2005, is the number-one marketing claim on kids' menus.

"Health and obesity issues, the popularity of ethnic foods and increased media coverage are creating pressure for revamped kids' menus," Ms. Caranfa said. "Soon, health and menu variety will be the new standards in kids' dining."

Several recent innovations in healthier kids' menu items are Bob Evans Grilled Chicken Strips with a fresh garden salad the Elephant Bar Restaurant’s Tropical Citrus Salad with Chicken.

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