I believe the children are our future… well, they are! As a mother and a grandmother, I have always paid attention to how kids eat. Last year, The National Restaurant Association survey highlighted healthful kids meals as one of the top menu trends for 2009, so it’s no surprise that nutritionally balanced children’s dishes and allergy-conscious meals are amongst top priorities for chefs. From improving school lunch programs and educating on healthy eating in schools, to the redeveloping of restaurant menus and marketing to families, it’s all about kids.
The restaurants and groups that are leading the pack are those who have identified what kids want and then found a way to get it to them. In fact, kid-friendly menus are being featured in the media and getting awards galore – the pressure is on especially with vacation time approaching. Let’s dig a little deeper.
KIDS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN
At my granddaughter’s birthday, I learned firsthand that kids love to cook – they want to get their hands dirty and, more often than not, they will actually eat what they have prepared. This is Alivia Rae Bryan playing the role of chef – and loving it!
Beaches in Vancouver, Washington, is a hit with the kids – not only because its kids menu includes a trip to a treasure chest of goodies, but because they have a great sundae bar that allows kids to create.
KIDS ARE KING
It’s important to acknowledge that kids remember where they had fun and when the time comes to go out for a family dinner, you bet they’re gonna voice their opinions!
Rigolo Café in San Francisco is considered one of the most child-friendly restaurants in the city. It features a kids play area with toys & chalkboard, a terrific kids menu, balloons, crayons… and FoodPower is helping them develop a new educational but fun kids menu and build a play kitchen for kids as part of a MakeOver with vanRooy Design at the drawing board.
Here in Southern California, I love the approach Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill is taking with its 12 premium-casual restaurants – by introducing a new kids menu with healthful options in addition to the very popular, more traditional dishes served in its award-winning restaurants. They have cleverly placed the option of salmon and chicken breast onto the menu.
Co-Founder Eric Anders explains, “Our menu for children has won national awards and is very successful with families in the communities we serve, but we know from personal experience that it’s tough to get our own kids to try new things.”
The salmon is a 4.5-ounce portion and the BBQ chicken breast is 6 ounces. Each is accompanied by a side dish and a beverage (juice, milk, chocolate milk or a fountain beverage) in a kids cup.
THERE’S A KID IN ALL OF US!
This is my grandson Tyler Ryan Marshall, one of the all-time greatest eaters, who loves eating foods with funny names with his hands – let’s face it, it’s a foolproof recipe for a good time. In London, the 4-star Derbyshire Hotel’s kids menus offer smaller portions off of its adult menu and an organic sustainable menu just for kids featuring “Toad in the Hole” and a “Fresh Melon Boat.”
Similarly, the Four Seasons around the world are featuring “Menus for Mini Gourmands.” In Chicago, the hotel worked in partnership with the local hospital to create a menu with low sodium and gluten-free options with fun names such as “T-Rex Dinosaur Oatmeal” and “Ants on a Log,” which allow kids to build their own celery goats with peanut butter and raisins!
THINKING BIG FOR SMALL KIDS!
This year, Orange County, California will introduce its first-ever Kids Restaurant Week, which focuses on providing opportunities to enjoy delicious and fun family dining at the county’s best restaurants. During the weeklong event, participating restaurants will offer special family-style prix-fixe menus for lunch and dinner. Meals will range from $20 - $75 for a family of four. What makes it even more special is that a portion of the proceeds from the week’s food sales will benefit the nonprofit Share our Strength, to support their project for ending childhood hunger.
"In a day and age when it’s harder for families to dine out together, Kids Restaurant Week provides an affordable opportunity to enjoy a great meal together and get the summer started off on the right foot,” commented Pamela Waitt, president of OC Restaurant Association, Inc., which produces the event. “This event is a great opportunity for kids to try a variety of cuisines and visit new restaurants. Many participating restaurants will create interactive experiences allowing kids to create their own dishes, while others will stick to a themed menu that the entire family can enjoy. Expect some surprises as restaurants that normally do not cater to kids offer a week of kid-friendly fine dining!”