When you create a kids’ menu or actively promote to younger diners, you’re not just reaching out to them: You’re also reaching out to their parents.
According to the NPD Study “Parties with Kids: Motivating More Visits,” 85% of parents surveyed had visited a restaurant in the previous three months with their families, and 84% said they were more likely to visit a restaurant with a kid-friendly environment.
While items like hot dogs, chicken fingers, and pizza will continue to capture small-fry sales, many kids’ menus are moving in the direction of healthier options. And this isn’t just because of parental preference or new nutritional standards for school meals, which emphasize more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Increasingly curious, sophisticated, and better educated about nutrition, many kids are embracing better-for-you selections when they go out to eat with their families. But just like their parents, they have increased expectations for flavor and fun when they dine out.
Add Healthy Options
Since it’s easier for parents to ensure that their kids are eating healthy when they eat at home, it’s important to provide that same ease when they take the family out to eat.
The Kid’s Menu at Silver Diner, a chain of 1950s-style restaurants in Maryland and Virginia, was overhauled in 2012 to feature healthier menu items and continues to evolve. In addition to Kids Classics like chicken tenders and mac-and-cheese, the menu features more sophisticated fare, such as Gluten-Free Quinoa Coconut Pancakes at breakfast, Chicken Pizza Quesadillas, and Teriyaki Salmon. Silver Diner also took fries and soda off the menu in favor of side items like salads and strawberries.
Salata, the “next generation salad bar” chain, has also been ramping up its efforts to allow children to enjoy the brand experience. Kids can fill a special six-compartment bento box with up to five items from the salad bar, with the sixth slot for dressing or peanut butter. Kids love the customization and control, says the company, and parents love it because they can see what their children are ordering.
Did You Know? With more kids on gluten free diets, it’s important to offer menu options they can enjoy. Nestlé Professional has a wide variety of gluten free products in its portfolio. Adding whole grain options is another great strategy for kids, who love the flavor of delicious, grain-packed Stouffer's® Macaroni and Cheese with Whole Grains.
Consider Adventurous Ethnic Food
According to Datassential, more than two-thirds of parents say their kids enjoy mainstream ethnic cuisine like Mexican and Chinese, while five out of 10 say they like even more adventurous explorations into the world of cuisines such as Indian, Peruvian, Vietnamese, and Moroccan. That means that foods like tacos and egg rolls are likely to be welcome additions to the kids’ menu, and that it may be worthwhile to experiment with even more sophisticated foods—especially for older children.
At Ejji Ramen in Baltimore, the kids’ menu includes items like Noodles and Broth, Mac & Cheese Ramen Dogs (a beef hot dog wrapped in ramen noodles with cheese sauce and tempura, served with apricot wasabi mustard), Chicken Katsu (breaded chicken tenders), and Grilled Chicken Coconut Rice Bowl. Extra toppings from the main menu, such as spinach, corn, or tempura shrimp, can be added as an à la carte extra.
Experiment with Breakfast at Dinner
Most kids love breakfast foods like cereal, pancakes, and waffles, and there’s no reason not to offer these items throughout the day if it fits in with your operation. Your younger customers will love it and most parents realize that it doesn’t matter when their kids eat what, as long as they’re eating a good meal and having fun. And if you go ahead and call it Breakfast for Dinner on the menu, you’re also offering a little adventure that may have them asking their parents to go back to that place where they can have waffles for dinner again.
Try This: Kids’ desserts? Think toppings like Nestlé® Crunch® Candy Pieces and Nestlé® Toll House® Chocolate Chip Cookies. Grown-ups won’t mind these popular brandable products in their desserts, either.
Make Descriptions Fun
As much as great description enhances any menu, a little creative (and age-appropriate) menu copywriting works on children too. Case in point: Bennigan’s made a huge splash with its Pot O’ Dirt dessert: vanilla pudding and crushed chocolate cookies, garnished with a gummy worm. Part of the appeal, of course, is that kids of a certain age love the idea of eating dirt for dessert, up to and including a huge cookie-between-the-teeth grin and chasing baby sis with the worm.
Make food sound tasty, fun, and nonthreatening and you’ll have won half of the battle.
More Tips for Kids’ Menus
Use fruits and vegetables to add color, sweetness, and texture as well as palate appeal and healthfulness.
Emphasize items that are easy for small fingers to pick up and hold, like sliders and other mini-sandwiches. Older kids might enjoy a shrimp kebab or even sushi made with cooked protein and veggies.
Add whole grains in the form of side dishes and mains, as well as bread, cereal, and so on.
If all else fails, “sneak” produce and grains into foods: mac and cheese with vegetables folded in; a whole grain waffle topped with fruit and soft-serve yogurt; turkey pot pie with veggies under the crust. “Hide” nutrition in the form of a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich or pasta with marinara sauce enhanced with sweet carrots.
Create interactive items like lettuce wraps to roll, sauces to dip into, toppings to add, and so on. For instance, offer chili with add-your-own accompaniments like chopped tomatoes and sliced radishes.
Offer lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, and fish, as well as low-fat dairy. For example, menu a kid-friendly chicken item like grilled or barbecued chicken wings, a chicken “burger” (either a breast or patty), or stir-fried chicken tenders.
Watch out for sodium levels.
Make the meal as customizable as possible by offering a mix-and-match choice of sides, sauces, beverages, and desserts; kids like to design their own meal, too.
Entice with kid-size servings of juice, milk, and other healthful beverages. Serve smoothies and fruit juice blends that appeal to the younger set’s taste buds.
Keep it fun and kid-friendly. Include the option of a side dish like fresh fruit, carrots, and celery sticks with yogurt dip, an individual box of raisins, or a fun vegetable like “grilled zukes and peppers” instead of the usual fries.