No Kidding: Kids’ Menus See Growth, Evolution in Canada

At the beginning of the year, we talked about the phenomenon of the incredible shrinking menu: Many Canadian restaurant operators are taking a scalpel to large and unwieldy menus to focus on executing core menu items well and improving operational efficiency. One section of the menu bucking the trend: kids’ menus.

From Q4 2012 to Q4 2013, the number of items on Canadian kids’ menus actually grew 7.6%, according to Technomic MenuMonitor data. Parents are demanding more variety and more-healthful choices from kids’ menus; many kids today have more worldly palates than their parents did at the same age, and awareness of issues such as childhood obesity and the link between food and well-being has risen. 

The result is the addition of better-for-kids options such as grilled rather than fried chicken and steamed vegetables (vegetables’ incidence on kids’ menus, whether as a side dish or an entrée component, climbed more than 9% in the year-over-year period) as well as more typically grown-up choices such as crêpes and Vietnamese pho soup.

As we noted last year, more than two in five Canadian parents who have children younger than 18 agree that kids’ menu items should be required to meet certain nutrition guidelines. And Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restauant and Foodservices Association) in 2013 named kid-friendly versions of adult dining options one of the year’s top 10 up-and-coming menu trends, based on a survey of Canadian chefs.

Following is a look at menu choices that reflect the dual ways in which Canadian restaurants are branching out on kids’ menus.

Health-Minded Selections

  • Ooey-Gooey Multigrain Two-Cheese Grilled Sandwich, The Pickle Barrel: Stuffed with unprocessed aged medium cheddar and mozzarella, served on toasted multigrain bread (no butter) with veggie sticks on the side and fresh fruit for dessert
  • Grilled Chicken, Applebee’s: With a choice of side salad, celery sticks, fresh steamed broccoli, applesauce or fries
  • Broiled Fish, Red Lobster: With a choice of orange wedges or broccoli
  • Sweet Little Chicken, Extreme Pita: Pita with grilled chicken, tomato, cucumber, romaine lettuce and honey mustard
  • Kids’ Grilled Chicken Skewer, Nando’s: A single kebab with spiced rice
  • Applesauce and Raisin Toast, De Dutch: Breakfast entrée
  • Yipi Fruit, Trattoria Di Mikes: Frozen fruit dessert; choice of mango, apple or pineapple

Beyond-the-Basics Choices

  • Flank Steak and Meatballs Pho, Pho Hoa: Made without scallions
  • Salmon, Redwater Rustic Grille: 4-ounce portion served with choice of accompaniment
  • Japanese Dragon Chicken, Wok Box Fresh Asian Kitchen: Teriyaki sauce with wok-cooked chicken, served with fresh broccoli trees and rice 
  • Eggplant Lasagna, Le Montrealais: A Q4 2013 addition to the kids’ menu
  • Field Berry Crêpes, Pacini: Two crêpes topped with field berries and raspberry coulis

There’s certainly more opportunity for operators in both the limited- and full-service segments to add more-healthful and more-creative choices to kids’ menus. And as menu labelling expands across the country—whether by choice or by law—parents likely will more closely scrutinize children’s choices at their favourite restaurants. (Sodium and calorie counts, in particular, may cause concern.) Re-evaluating kids’ menus now can help operators avoid veto votes from families in the future.

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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