It appears that today’s kids are no longer won over by a toy nestled between their chicken nuggets and fries, or with the kids’ menu, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company. Though kids’ meals with toys and kids’ menus continue to be the most popular options for children younger than 13, both offerings have experienced sharp declines.

According to NPD’s Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends (CREST®), which tracks consumer usage of commercial foodservice, for the year ending December 2008, among kids under 13, orders for kid’s meals that included a toy were down 11 percent, and orders from kids menus were down four percent, compared to combo meals down two percent and 99-cent value menu up nine percent.

“Just as adults have moved to greater use of deals and value menus, there continues to be a shift in the way kids are ordering at restaurants or, in many cases, how their parents are ordering for them,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD. “What has gained in popularity is the use of value menus for kids’ meals and snacks.”

Contributing to the decline in the number of kids’ meals with toys and kids menu items ordered is that fewer kids are eating out. NPD finds that traffic for parties with kids declined five percent in the quarter ending February 2009, compared to same quarter last year, after more than three years of positive growth. A not particularly surprising trend given that the average size of the party when kids are present is over twice as large as for adult-only parties, driving the cost almost $8 higher than for the typically smaller adult only occasions. Both quick service restaurants (fast food) and full service restaurants experienced traffic losses. In both cases, losses were heaviest with kids under 6 years old.

When kids under 12 do visit restaurants, pizza is far and away the most popular fast food for children, according to NPD CREST data. On the flip side, fries and chicken nuggets are also popular, but beginning to fall out of favor. Up and coming items include hamburgers, tacos and pasta for older kids, with fruit and ice cream gaining in popularity for younger kids. While pizza dominates for kids at supper in a quick service restaurant, pasta takes over that spot at full service restaurants.

“Kids’ tastes and preferences’ are changing. There is more to the shift away from kids’ meals and menus than the economy and saving money,” says Riggs. “Kids today want more choices and sophisticated fare.”

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