Mintel Menu Insights, which tracks restaurant menu trends, announced that the average kids' menu doesn't offer enough variety or healthy food.
Analyzing kids' menus from 2005 to the present, Mintel Menu Insights saw the same foods offereded each year. Chicken fingers steadily account for 10 percent 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.
"Our research shows parents want more nutritious options for their kids, and children are open to fruits, veggies, and healthier versions of standard fare,” says Maria Caranfa, R&D and director of Mintel Menu Insights. “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 percent) are open to ordering foods with vegetables, and six in seven (86 percent) 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 percent of kids' menu items), fruits and vegetables have risen in popularity (now at 43 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Even rice and salad (18 percent 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 percent of items during Q2 2009. In Q2 2005, only 8 percent of kids' menu items carried the "fresh" claim.
"Restaurants dabble in healthier menus for kids, but there's still significant work to be done," Caranfa says. "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 include Bob Evans, with its Grilled Chicken Strips with a fresh garden salad; and Burger King, with its Fresh Apple Fries.