Kid friendly meals are hot ticket items. And not just any kid friendly meals or children’s menus. Gourmet is the name of the game and parents are willing to pay top dollar for healthier, more exotic, and delicious children’s food choices. But what is gourmet, why pay more for it and how can you incorporate it into your restaurant menu?
Children’s Menu Trends
Looking at menu trends over the last five years, including lists of foods and beverages expected to grab consumers’ attention and capture the market, the terms “healthful kids’ meals, “gourmet items in kids’ meals,” and “ethnic-inspired kids’ dishes” increasingly make the grade. The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) annual survey of professional chefs predicting “What’s Hot” in menu trends for 2018 highlights healthful kids’ meals among other palate-pleasing choices such as doughnuts with non-traditional fillings. As NRA’s Director of Sustainability and Nutrition Jeff Clark explains: “Many restaurants are working to update their menus, so kids are satisfied with the choices available to them. Today, more kids’ menus feature foods made from fresh ingredients that are prepared creatively, healthfully, and are a lot of fun to eat.”
Gourmet Foods for Kids
So, if you’re thinking standard fast-food for kids, such as burger-fries-soft drink with a pickle on the side, replace the familiar fanfare with new-and-improved ‘gourmet’ versions of kids’ meals, such as ramen noodles served in bento boxes, or authentic barbequed ribs and grilled burgers. Tacos and quesadillas are always favorites, or perhaps pad thai or an Indonesian peanut saute or stick. More familiar dishes like chicken noodle soup or gourmet style mac and cheese can be incorporated into your menu to weave the old and familiar with the new and more exotic. Make sure that your menu offerings come in adult sizes as well as kid sizes so kids can feel like they are eating adult foods. And to keep your youngest customers – and their parents – coming back, be sure to offer upgraded children’s choices that are fat-free, gluten-free, non-dairy, and nut-free for kids with allergies.
History of Kids’ Meals
A look at the history of kids’ meals corroborates current market trends as evidenced by children’s menus evolving to include more varied options with healthier selections.
This trend started as far back as 1973, when kids meals first made its appearance with the “Funmeal,” debuted at BurgerChef. Its success was followed by McDonald’s “Happy Meal,” introduced in 1978, after which other fast food establishments began offering their own children’s meal menus. This trend shifted accordingly towards the more healthy, so by 2011, a total of 19 food chains participated in the Kids LiveWell program, promising to “offer at least one children’s meal that has fewer than 600 calories, no soft drinks and at least two items from the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins or low-fat dairy.”
The award-winning Kids LiveWell Program is a joint initiative run by the NRA in partnership with Healthy Dining and is designed to help families make healthy choices while dining out. As of 2017, more than 150 food chains across 42,000 locales have joined the program.
Fine Dining with Kids in Tow
The idea of gourmet foods for kids has numerous variations with fine food stalwarts agreeing that there shouldn’t be separate gourmet menus that are kid-friendly, rather, that kids should be trusted to try adult food and challenge their palates at a young age.
Le Perigord, one of the fanciest French restaurants in NYC, is more than happy to host young diners and serve them adult foods. Among favorite choices are the vegetable tart or lobster bisque as an appetizer, and pastas, turbot filet, or burgers for a main course. Sometimes they will serve their young diners snails, sweetbreads, or frogs’ legs without telling them what it is, until they are done. Their philosophy being: “It’s important they [kids] are exposed to such flavors [early in life].” A typical gourmet meal at this fine restaurant will finish off with a visit to the “Temptation Wagon,” which is like a Viennese table, full of sumptuous desserts such as chocolate mousse, tarte tatin, and raspberry tart – which kids have no problem gobbling up – gourmet or not.
How can You Boost Your Business with Gourmet Kids’ Meals
Many families enjoy dining out, and as revealed in an NRA 2017 State of the Industry report, both millennials and Generation Xers tend to base their restaurant selections on the availability of locally sourced, environmentally-friendly, nutritious food selections. Moreover, 74% of millennials identified healthy menu items as the deciding factor between restaurants.
Furthermore, according to Out to Eat with Kids Founder Jennifer Bilbro (a consulting firm that links restaurants to families), today’s savvy chefs and restaurateurs should be considering kids in their menu planning and in their overall strategy. And in fact, across the board, restaurants of all types report that they currently offer gourmet and healthful kids’ items and that they believe these menu items will be even more popular in the years ahead.
How to Cater to Kids
As a dedicated food industry professional, customer satisfaction rates high on your list of priorities, as does your commitment to growing your establishment. You can easily accomplish both goals by adding a generous helping of gourmet kids’ foods and healthier selections to your menu.
Gourmet Kids Menus: An Affordable and Wise Investment
And here is some more good food for thought: According to experts such as Ian Davidson, brand insight senior manager for C3 (a family and kids marketing agency) and Terry Hamer, director of business development for Kidzsmart, investing in kids and in children’ menus is an affordable and wise investment with a strong ROI. Enhance families’ dining out experience and you will enhance your business. In fact, when asked in a Kidzsmart survey what they liked most about eating out, children’s top answers were: Spending time with family, fun, and the food.
Kid Friendly Tips for Your Eatery
In addition to offering special kid friendly gourmet and nutritious meals, service and hospitality rank high on parents’ wish list and parents have identified service as a leading factor in their eatery selection. The Back Room at One57, once a hotspot located near Carnegie Hall in NYC, served children’s books on a vintage library cart – along with kid-friendly fare, such as a salmon bento box, a turkey dog dressed up with cheddar cheese, and kale salad with a sweet honey vinaigrette that kids adored.
Creating a fun kids’ corner to occupy young customers is another savvy way to create income (furnished with games, toys, books, building blocks, or a sandpit), as is greeting kids warmly, calling kids by their first name, and here is another great tip: adding kid-friendly names to items on your menu!
Gourmet Foods for Kids – Our Say
In an age of fierce industry competition, you want to find new ways to stand out from the crowd and promote your business. Conscientious, smart marketing strategies include adding gourmet choices for kids that include healthy, locally sourced and nutritious foods, expanding and improving your restaurant’s food selections, and enhancing your guests’ experience. Follow these protocols and you are sure to enjoy the pleasing taste of your ensuing profits!