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National Restaurant Association - Firebirds fires up healthful kids' meals

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Firebirds fires up healthful kids' meals

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill is committed to helping children eat more healthfully. The Charlotte, N.C.-based chain recently revamped its kids menu and joined the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program. The voluntary program promotes a focus on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, while limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Corporate chef Steven Sturm talks about the importance of offering nutritious meals for kids.

Why did you start offering better choices for children?

One thing we’ve prided ourselves on is that we’ve worked hard to provide one of the best kids’ menus in the marketplace. It offers a lot of choice and variety. But we also wanted to take care of kids and do something to improve child nutrition, so we decided to pair up with Kids LiveWell and offer more healthful options for our young customers to choose from.

Why is it important to offer kids better choices?

There’s a huge obesity epidemic affecting children in this country. It’s essential we do more to educate and have options for them so they can develop a fondness for more healthful options. It’s important for us to be good stewards and show our customers we care about them. It also makes good business sense because parents will make dining choices based on the options available for their children.

Was it difficult creating menu items to fit Kids LiveWell’s requirements?

Many options we offer already met the criteria. We wanted to make sure we offered a mix of items: some healthful options as well as indulgence items. That way, parents could help guide their children in making the right choices.

How do you come up with healthful menu ideas that kids would like?

When you talk about kids’ palates we see three different levels: before five years old, five to 10 years old and 10 to 12 years old. When the children are younger than five, the parents are usually making the decisions. If they’re five to 10 years old, the parents and kids make the choices together. After 10, the kids tend to make their own choices. They have more developed palates and want to try bolder, interactive items. When we’re testing ideas, we ask our employees with children for input. We’re trying to do better in getting more feedback from guests.

What’s one menu option children love?

The wood-fired grilled chicken for sure. It’s full-flavored and comes with fresh fruit and steamed vegetables. We’re finding a lot of our kid customers like fresh fruit.

What kind of feedback are customers giving?

It’s a mixed bag. Some tell us they want more nutritious options. Pretty much all of them say they want to have choice. Sometimes they may want to be indulgent, but they may want something healthier another time. The key is to give them opportunities to choose what they want at each dining experience.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Treat kids as though they’re little adults. They have sophisticated palates and like good food. They definitely notice the difference between going through a drive- thru and going to a fullservice restaurant with a lot of choices. A lot of our guests say their kids drive where the family eats so appealing to them is a big deal.

Advise chefs thinking about creating healthful items.

Decide whether or not an item is the right one and if you can pull a lot of flavor out of it. Ask yourself if kids can dip into it or do something with it. Making the food items interactive helps.

Pictured top right: Firebirds' corporate chef Steven Sturm; above right: grilled Mahi with fresh fruit and vegetables

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