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Today’s kids’ menus are so…last year. Mintel Menu Insights, which tracks restaurant menu trends, says the average kids’ menu doesn’t offer enough variety or healthy food, even as parents, kids and chefs alike call out for better options.
Analyzing kids’ menus from 2005 to the present, Mintel Menu Insights sees the same clichéd foods repeated year after year. Chicken fingers steadily account for 10% of kids’ menu items, followed by grilled cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese and burgers. Despite increasing health and obesity concerns, other top kids’ menu items include hot dogs, pizza and corn dogs.
Do kids and parents really never tire of the same old thing? Not at all, says Maria Caranfa, RD and director of Mintel Menu Insights. “Our research shows parents want more nutritious options for their kids, and children are open to fruits, veggies and healthier versions of standard fare. The generic kids’ menu really doesn’t meet the needs and desires of today’s families.”
Only three in 10 parents say their children eat healthfully at restaurants. But Mintel found kids will eat fruits and veggies. More than three in four children (77%) are open to ordering foods with vegetables, and six in seven (86%) would order fruit-containing items.
Some restaurants have started toying with healthier menus for kids. Though french fries are still the most common side (offered with 66% of kids’ menu items), fruits and vegetables have risen in popularity (now at 43% and 39%, respectively). Even rice and salad (18% each) are showing up as kids’ side options.
Additionally, more restaurants now use menu descriptors to quantify health. “Fresh” is the top marketing claim on kids’ menus, appearing on 17% of items during Q2 2009. In Q2 2005, only 8% of kids’ menu items carried the “fresh” claim.
“Restaurants dabble in healthier menus for kids, but there’s still significant work to be done,” comments Maria Caranfa. “Health and obesity issues, the popularity of ethnic foods and increased media coverage are creating pressure for revamped kids’ menus. Soon, health and menu variety will be the new standards in kids’ dining.”
Maria Caranfa points out recent innovations in healthier kids’ menu items:

Bob Evans: Grilled Chicken Strips with a fresh garden salad
Burger King: Fresh Apple Fries
Elephant Bar Restaurant: Tropical Citrus Salad with Chicken