Although it is increasingly clear that kids influence meal purchases, what isn’t so well-known is where, what, how, and when youths and teens want to eat.

A new survey of youngsters ages five to 15 reveals that kids’ favorite places to eat are home, quick-service restaurants, and school. According to research conducted by Chicago-based Y-Pulse LLC, taste remains the top factor in their choice of a preferred setting, no matter where it may be.

In its survey of children, tweens, and teens around the country, Y-Pulse researchers discovered how social interaction affects kids’ favorite food choices. Many of the younger children polled said they enjoy eating at home because their parents cook well and they enjoy being with their families. Older children such as tweens and teens, meanwhile, said that they like eating with their friends, whether at fast-food restaurants or at school.

The family factor also is important, according to the young survey respondents. “My mom is the best cook!” one kindergartener exclaimed, a sentiment that was echoed by many other Y-Pulse survey respondents under the age of ten. Older children, too, also have a definite comfort level with food that is prepared by Mom or tastes like what Mom would make. As one 18 year-old declared, “I love my parents’ cooking!”

Foodservice operators who want to satisfy the demands of young consumers can make their menus more appealing by providing foods that taste like what Mom (or Dad, for that matter) would make, says Sharon Olson, partner with Y-Pulse, LLC. “The majority of respondents across all age groups who said they enjoy their parents’ cooking supports the collaboration we see among parents and foodservice directors in many areas working together to offer some authentic ethnic foods at school,” she says.

Respondents to the Y-Pulse online survey cited many such classic dishes when discussing their favorite venues and meals. Pasta, and variations such as spaghetti and macaroni and cheese, was a top choice, as was pizza, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets.

Respondents across the youth demographic voiced their distaste with foods that they deemed “gross” or “greasy,” implying that preparation methods and presentation are quite important to this discerning generation of eaters. Indeed, negatives associated with certain food locales often centered on the appearance and eating quality of the finished food, according to the Y-Pulse survey.

In addition, the environment appears to play a part in kids’ choice of their favorite food spots. One drawback often associated with school cafeterias, for example, was the noise level. The loudness of an away-from-home setting is contrasted to the welcoming feeling at youngsters’ home tables, which could be a takeaway for foodservice operators who may be looking at re-designing their school cafeterias with features like softer lighting, more comfortable chairs and different acoustic-related elements.

Consumer Trends, News