CHICAGO — Children know the difference between healthy foods and those that aren’t, claims a new study titled "Kids & Moms Consumer Trend Report (Family Attitudes and Motivations in Foodservice)" by foodservice consultant Technomic and kid-focused, brand-marketing agency C3.

Approximately nine out of 10 kids surveyed said that fresh vegetables and fresh whole fruits are healthy. Other foods named healthy by kids included salad (78%), steamed vegetables (76%) and eggs (72%). At least half said fish, cheese, chicken and peanut butter are healthy as well.

Kids today are health savvy, and the nutritional education they’ve received will impact their choices as consumers, said Darren Tristano, Technomic’s executive vice-president. "Health-halo attributes related to natural, organic, local and sustainable foods could present an opportunity in the coming years for restaurants that recognize this growing awareness on the part of young consumers," he added.

Other findings include:

  • Salads are now among the leading entrée items on kids’ menus at the top 250 full-service restaurants. They primarily appeal to kids at the higher end of the kids’ menu age range.
  • Kids ages 10 to 12 have different meal preferences than younger children. When given the opportunity to "build a meal," older kids are far more likely than younger ones to choose steak, seafood and salads. Children age nine and under prefer chicken fingers, pizza and French fries.
  • Aside from the growth of healthy side-item options, much of the development around healthier fare is in kids’ beverage selections and in increasing the number of items described as organic or natural.

Fast-casual and family-style restaurants overall were perceived by moms to be less kid-friendly than quick-service restaurants. In the quick-service segment, Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s rated excellent along most kid-related attributes. Fuddrucker’s was the only fast-casual brand to be considered kid-friendly by about half of moms (48%). Applebee’s was recognized as the most kid-friendly restaurant in the family-style format.

Consistent food quality, restaurant cleanliness, value and consistently good service are the key elements in the brand decision for moms across all restaurant segments. "Especially in the current marketplace, it is more important than ever to know your target audience," said Randy Jordan, C3 president. "By understanding today’s kids and families and what motivates their dining-out decisions and how that has changed over the last several years, restaurants and foodservice operators can adapt and develop strategies that satisfy their motivations."

The new study was designed to help restaurant operators and suppliers understand dining behavior, attitudes and preferences of moms and their children. The report was developed using data gathered in a May survey of 1,500 moms and 1,200 kids ages six to 12.