Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Better kids' meals top trends list

If you think pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers are the only choices offered on children’s menus today, think again. Now you might find dishes adapted from adult menu items with more adventurous flavor profiles than traditional kids’ fare, and more healthful, too, new National Restaurant Association research finds.

Some of the restaurant industry’s hottest trends involve children’s items, according to the NRA’s 2015 What’s Hot culinary forecast. Topping the list: Increasingly sophisticated foods and flavors in kids meals, along with more healthful ingredients, such as whole grains, vegetables, oven-baked items and entrée salads. The survey was conducted with approximately 1,300 professional chef-members from the American Culinary Federation.

Joy Dubost, the NRA’s senior director of nutrition and healthy living, said the restaurant industry is making big strides in providing children with balanced choices. She cited the success of the NRA’s Kids LiveWell nutrition program, which now includes more than 150 brands at approximately 42,000 locations.

“The industry is committed to offering an array of nutritious and delicious options for children,” Dubost said. “That’s a top priority among many chefs and restaurant operators.”

Healthful kids’ meals ranked fourth among the survey’s top 20 food trends. Whole grains in kids’ meals came in 14th and fruits and vegetables as kids’ side items ranked 19th. Three-quarters of respondents rated healthful kids’ meals a hot trend. Among the other items ranked as “hot” for 2015: whole grains in kids’ menu items (cited as a hot trend by 68 percent of respondents), fruits and vegetables as kids’ meal side items (cited by 65 percent), and entrée salads as kids’ meals (cited by 61 percent).

“Though pizza, hamburgers and other kids’ menu staples aren’t going anywhere, we are seeing increasingly sophisticated dishes being offered to our youngest diners,” said Annika Stensson, the NRA's senior manager of research communications. “Children are more ‘food-experienced’ than ever before because they see parents satisfying their own more adventurous palates. At every age, we’re seeing an increased willingness to try new things.

“The restaurant industry is starting to commit itself to serving kid customers in the same way they do their adult patrons: by appealing to their taste buds while providing more nutritious options.”

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