Chicken fingers, mac and cheese and a side of crayons? That’s the traditional makeup of most kiddie menus. But experts say that kids’ palates are growing more sophisticated, and are seeing many more youngsters who prefer to order that sriracha-infused spinach off the grownup menu, sidestepping the kids’ menu altogether. “There’s a growing trend in which kids as young as age seven are ordering off the adult menu,” says Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters. “They’ll choose adult menu options to split as an entrée with a grownup or among other kids.”
Healthier options still needed
Along with that increasingly sophisticated palate, kids and parents also have a stronger focus on health properties and nutritional content of their family meals, whether eaten at home or in a restaurant. Operators are making an effort to address health concerns for the younger set. A recent study showed that many restaurants have cut calories in children’s meals and are offering some healthier side dishes, such as fruits and vegetables. Still, study co-author Christina Economos, associate professor at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, cites the need for even more progress: “The industry has started to make some changes, but it’s focusing mostly on calories. Improvements are needed to consistently offer healthier combinations.”
Interactive experiences and global flavors
Smart operators have stepped up their game to appeal to their smallest—but still highly influential—customers. Webster cites innovative offerings coming from higher-end hotel chains, which have launched kids’ menus that were developed after in-depth consumer research. Adding ethnic cuisines to kids’ menus has proven to be a successful venture for many operations, including Intercontinental Hotels, which recently launched a kids’ menu called Global Planet Trekkers.
“Hyatt has created menu items that are activities as well as food,” Webster says, citing their build-your-own-taco that comes with fixings that allow the entrée to be constructed right at the table. The interactive, personalized option allows the dish to be created to children’s own specifications. After all, they reason, an engaged and content child at the table means a happier dining party overall.