This article was provided by National Restaurant Association partner Healthy Dining and written by Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH and President for Healthy Dining.
Demand for healthful kids’ meals is increasing. As parents become more knowledgeable about nutrition, they demonstrate increasing commitment to quality nutritious foods.
“Feeding kids healthfully is not taking anything away from them but instead gives them the building materials they need, through nutritious foods, to grow and learn and live a full life,” David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. Katz, a medical doctor, is an internationally recognized expert on nutrition and disease prevention.
Help satisfy parents’ demands for more healthful children’s options with these tips:
1. Add colorful fruits and vegetables.
Kids love color, so think about the rainbow when you offer kids a choice of fruits and vegetables. Elizabeth Pivonka, president of Produce for Better Health, says Gen X moms are especially motivated to increase their family’s fruit and vegetable consumption. She says restaurants can please them by offering more fruit and vegetables that kids like, such as broccoli, corn, green beans, carrots, potatoes, peas, salad/lettuce and spinach. Apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes, oranges, pineapple, peaches and nectarines are among kids’ favorite fruits, PBH research shows.
2. Add whole grains.
Offer brown rice, quinoa and whole-grain pasta, pizza crust and bread. Whole grains in kids' meals was the second most popular trend for kids' meals and the 10th most popular trend overall, according to the most recent National Restaurant Association “What’s Hot” survey.
“We're pleased to see chefs recognize the importance of offering kids (and adults) more whole grain choices,” says Cynthia Harriman, director, food and nutrition strategies, Whole Grains Council. “Now that more children are being introduced to the fuller, nuttier taste of whole grains in schools, it's a great time for restaurants to introduce more whole grains in their kids' meals. Whole grains are now becoming the norm.”
3. Offer lean protein.
Add more skinless chicken and turkey breast, lean beef, tofu, fish and seafood to your kids’ menu. Be creative with sauces and seasonings by trying fruit salsas, fruit juice marinades and low-sodium teriyaki, barbecue or honey mustard sauces. Some kids like spicy; some like bland, so offer a choice when possible.
4. Offer kid-sized portions of healthful drinks.
Add fruit slices or berries to pure water. Offer skim milk and 100 percent fruit juice. A 6- to 8-ounce portion is perfect for kids.
5. Watch out for sodium.
Sodium can add up quickly, so be aware of products that add sodium, such as processed meat, cheese, sauces and dressings. Look for lower-sodium alternatives, and sparingly use high-sodium products. Beware of garnishes: half a large pickle has about 300 milligrams of sodium, and a tablespoon of ketchup or mustard has about 170.
6. Join the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program.
Participating restaurants can take advantage of dietitian consultations, guidance for offering healthful options and a marketing program to promote Kids LiveWell choices through Healthy Dining Finder, the Kids LiveWell app, media outreach, Twitter chats, mommy-blogger sites, events and other opportunities.
Since it launched in July 2011, the Kids LiveWell program has attracted more than 130 restaurant brands that operate more than 40,000 locations. The NRA developed Kids LiveWell with Healthy Dining registered dietitians.
“Working with restaurants on the Kids LiveWell program is one of my favorite parts of my job,” says Ilana Shapiro, a culinary dietitian at Healthy Dining. “I love to hear the excitement and dedication of participating restaurants. I sense that there is really a lot of momentum in the industry and that many chefs are working to increase the healthfulness of their kids’ menus.”
7. Keep innovating.
Get kids excited about experimenting with new flavors at your restaurant. Try serving a variety of seasonal vegetables and flavorful whole grains. Apply your culinary artistry and creativity to the presentation of kid-friendly meals
. Involve your young guests and their parents in designing new healthful menu choices. Explore your adult menu for healthful choices that might appeal to kids, and promote those on your kids’ menu.