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National Restaurant Association - COO ensures kids eat well at Fresh to Order

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COO ensures kids eat well at Fresh to Order

At Fresh to Order in Atlanta, chief operating officer Jesse Gideon knows teaching children to order more healthfully in restaurants not only bodes well for them, but also for restaurateurs savvy enough to serve great-tasting, healthful fare.

The co-founder of the eight-unit upscale fast-casual chain is committed to serving his kid customers the same way he does his adult patrons: by appealing to their taste buds while providing them with more nutritious options. To do this, he enlisted the help of San Diego-based nutrition consultant Healthy Dining Inc. and also became a participant of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program.

With menu options like grilled filet medallions or fresh seared salmon with wheat berry rice and carrot sticks, Gideon is introducing youngsters to a whole new culinary world   far beyond traditional grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken fingers.

“We’ve been serving healthful kids meals for a while now, but with the resources of Healthy Dining and Kids LiveWell, we’re now able to showcase the healthier meals we sell every day,” he said. “We’re always asking ourselves what kids should eat, from a health standpoint. We want to help them develop more healthful habits because, really, they’re our next generation of guests. It’s been very simple for us; we’re serving them what we serve adults, but in smaller versions. Why not do it?”

Gideon’s interest in creating more healthful kids’ meals began about seven years ago, when Fresh to Order first opened its doors.

“We knew [ordering healthfully in restaurants] was a problem, even for our own families,” he said. “It was kind of hard for our kids to get healthy items [back then]. We’d look at the menus and see the usual suspects: fried fish, corn dogs, fried everything. We looked at our own kids’ menu and started asking what we should keep and what we should change.”

It was after the chain started working with Healthy Dining a couple of years ago that Gideon first discovered the Kids LiveWell program.

“[The staff at] Healthy Dining said, ‘Hey, there’s this great initiative going on called Kids LiveWell,’ and we said, ‘Yeah, you’re right; let’s go!’ ”

Fresh to Order joined the NRA’s Kids LiveWell initiative earlier this year. Created in partnership with Healthy Dining in 2011, the program requires participating restaurants to follow nutrition precepts based on recommendations of leading health organizations, such as the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.

Gideon said the secret to getting kids to eat more healthfully is to create a healthful environment for them from the beginning.

“Everyone is a product of their environment,” he said. “If kids start early eating low-fat proteins paired with less starchy items, they’ll become accustomed to that. It’s really about helping to educate them about the healthful options offered and get them eating that. It’s important they understand that that food tastes just as good and is good for them.”

To that end, Gideon claims that if kids see their parents eating and enjoying the same items in adult-sized portions, they will be more inclined to try them when they are offered on kids’ menus.

“I think if parents are eating something, their kids will be much more willing to try it,” he said.

Gideon noted that the chain is branching out and experimenting with more healthful items for its kids’ menu.

“We’ve been working on a handmade black bean burger and a sushi-grade tuna burger, both on the smaller side,” he said. “We’re also thinking about introducing some coconut curry dishes that are vegetarian, gluten free and made with premium, really high-quality ingredients. They’re relatively low in fat even though they do have some coconut in them. We’ll have to send them to Healthy Dining first and see if they fall under Kids LiveWell guidelines, but if they do, they’d be a far cry from typical kids’ meals.”

Gideon said he thinks the shift toward more healthful eating is a trend and not a fad, something that will continue for generations to come.

“I think it is still early on, but younger generations are more in tune with eating healthfully,” he said. “Older folks are doing it because they want to be healthier, but younger ones are doing it because it’s what they’re used to. It’s not a fad. And kids’ foods will evolve. You can already see the transition happening.”

Pictured, top right: Jesse Gideon, COO of Fresh to Order

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