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Get input from parents and children to design kids’ meals that are nutritious, satisfying and tasty. The payoff: options that appeal to children are good for your sales.
Three participants of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program share how they developed winning kids’ meals. Discover best practices from Arby’s, Applebee’s and bd’s Mongolian to get started:
Make sure your menu evolves to keep pace with kids’ changing tastes. Applebee’s started with what seemed fun for kids and added a few “stealth healthy” options, says Darin Dugan, senior vice president of marketing and culinary. “We approached the new menu by asking what kids and parents wanted and let that steer our development,” Dugin says. “The result has been very encouraging.”
Find out what consumers are looking for. Applebee’s studied kids’ preferences through focus groups, surveys and in-restaurant testing. The result: a menu that offers a breadth of choices and healthy options that kids want to eat. Today, it offers 10 Kids LiveWell-approved meals, which Dugin says are popular with guests.
“We’ve learned to listen to guests, whether they’re kids or adults,” he says. “Use those insights to engineer a menu that meets their needs in creative ways.”
Match what parents feel good about serving their children with food their kids will eat. Like Applebee’s, Arby’s conducted focus groups and quantitative research to find out what customers were looking for. During the 10-month testing process, the company discovered parents weren’t necessarily looking to count calories for their kids, but they wanted wholesome options to choose from, says Debbie Domer, director of brand marketing.
For example, parents said they wanted more fruit, so the 3,400-unit chain added apple slices to the menu. It also added a salad and turkey and cheese sandwich to the kids’ menu and switched to low-fat milk, juice and bottled water as default beverages.
While Arby’s still sells more kids’ meals with curly fries than apple slices, the changes are paying off. “It’s getting good response from a sales perspective and positive feedback from moms who are happy with our new offerings,” Domer says. “We feel we’re making a real impact with our consumers.”
Make kids’ nutrition part of your mission. Arby’s wanted to create awareness around wholesome, healthful options as part of its strategic mission. “With Kids LiveWell, we thought it was a great opportunity to align [with an initiative that focused] on everything we’d been and are doing,” Domer says.
Show parents that healthful kids’ meals can be exciting by offering choice, action and fun. bd’s Mongolian Grill developed an interactive menu set up like a game board. Children get to bang a gong for completing certain activities on the game board, such as eating a veggie or protein or using their chopsticks.
Get kids’ buy-in by giving them more independence and control over choices. Kids choose their own meat, veggies and sauce, build their own stir-fry and take it to the grilling station to be cooked.
Being able to see the different choices and fresh colors – picking them – makes a huge difference,” says Carrie Martin, vice president of operations support. “By allowing them to create their own bowl, we offer them a little more room to make their own healthful choices.”
Offer things kids are familiar with or get at home, such as individually wrapped applesauce and juice boxes.