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National Restaurant Association - 5 ways to get kids to order healthful choices

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5 ways to get kids to order healthful choices

Mark National Nutrition Month by examining the nutritional content of your children’s menu. These seven chains, which participate in our Kids LiveWell program, offer ideas to make healthful options appeal to parents and kids.

Present healthful meals in creative packaging

Bluewater Grill decided to package its healthful kids’ items in bento boxes after investigating cute containers at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. Each bento box comes with carrot sticks and fruit, in addition to the protein and side item. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company lists edamame, salad, mixed vegetables and rice on menus before other sides, such as fries and mashed potatoes. It also uses bamboo chopsticks for fish, chicken, shrimp and steak “dipping sticks,” rather than sharp skewers.

Entice kids to healthful menu items

Tailor items to age ranges

Create items that appeal to older children or “tweens,” says James Clark, food and beverage director, Mama Fu’s Asian House. Kids over 10 have more sophisticated palates and order bolder, interactive items, says Steven Sturm, corporate chef, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. Charlotte, N.C.-based Firebirds offers a mix of healthful and indulgent items so parents can guide their children to make the right choices, such as the mahi mahi shown above.

Tweens might be too old to order items with cutesy names but not ready for a full adult meal, so Austin, Texas-based Mama Fu’s modified two of its more “accessible” dinner entrees for kids: sweet and sour and teriyaki. The kids' versions include steamed chicken with broccoli and carrots tossed in sweet and sour or teriyaki sauce. Guests can substitute tofu or shrimp for chicken.

When children are younger than 5, parents usually decide what their kids will eat, Sturm says. For those 5 to 10 years old, the parents and kids often make the choices together.

Adapt entrees for younger guests

Fire up kids' meals

Scale down adult portions

Great New Hampshire Restaurants re-engineered adult selections to meet the Kids LiveWell criteria. In addition to resizing portions, the company marinated, sauced and cooked the items more healthfully. At Mama Fu’s, Clark saw that families frequently ordered lunch portions of adult dinner entrees for their children. Others modified the dishes by ordering them without certain vegetables. So Clark reshaped the kids' dishes, he suggested leaving off onions, red bell peppers and mushrooms. “Listen to what your guests are already telling you,” he says.

How Great New Hampshire Restaurants provide fun, delicious food

Make healthful dishes fun

Incorporate fun items into each dish, and add as much color to the plate as possible. Children base their outlook on food on appearance and initial tastes, says Jim Rogers, chief marketing officer, Tony Roma’s restaurants. Kids know what they like and what they want. Cater to their needs and wants, not yours as adults.

How Tony Roma's beefs up healthful kids' items

Get feedback

Applebee’s studied kids’ preferences through focus groups, surveys and in-restaurant testing. The result: a menu that offers a breadth of choices and healthy options that kids want to eat. At least 10 meals fit Kids LiveWell criteria.

Similarly, Arby’s conducted focus groups and quantitative research to find out what customers were looking for. During its 10-month testing process, the company discovered parents weren’t necessarily looking to count calories for their kids. Instead, they wanted a variety of wholesome options. For example, parents said they wanted more fruit, so the 3,400-unit chain added apple slices to the menu. Other additions: a salad, a turkey and cheese sandwich, and low-fat milk, juice and bottled water as default beverages.

Re-engineer your kids' menu




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