What's Hot in 2012 - Healthy Children's Menus

By Leidra Horton

With the official onset of Spring just around the corner, and the excitement of the Summer dining season only weeks away, now's the time to give your menu a fresh new start by incorporating the latest menu trends from the National Restaurant Association's What's Hot in 2012 chef survey.

After reviewing the Top 20 Trends, it's clear that this is the year of the Kids Menu. With trends such as "Healthful Kid's Meals," "Children's Nutrition," "Whole Grain Items in Kids’ Meals," and "Fruit/Vegetable Children's Side Items" all making the list, there's no denying the fact that Americans are looking for healthier options for their kids when dining out.

Alarming Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, with more than one third of children and adolescents classified as overweight or obese in 2008. From 1980 to 2008, the percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% to nearly 20%.

With statistics like these, it's no wonder why parents are starting to take a more active role in the food choices that their children are making.

Restaurants Leading the Way

As restaurateurs, it's our job to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers. To assist in the switch, last Summer, the National Restaurant Association launched its nationwide "Kids LiveWell" program. In reference to that program, Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, states that it, "underscores that restaurants can be part of the solution to ensuring a healthier generation and providing consumer choice in dining options."

In order for restaurants to join “Kids LiveWell,” they must agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines . The criteria for these choices are as follows:

  • Offer a children’s meal (an entrée, side and beverage) with 600 calories or less; two servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; with limits on sodium, fats and sugar;
  • Offer at least one other individual item with 200 calories or less, with limits on fats, sugars and sodium, plus contain a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy;
  • Display or make available upon request the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options; and
  • Promote/identify the healthful menu options.

How YOU Can Join the Revolution

While the criteria for the “Kids LiveWell” initiative may seem to be "too much" for some restaurants, starting out small and building up to these criteria is easier than you think.

For instance, if you already have a bar blender, consider adding smoothies to your menu by blending fat-free or low-fat yogurt or milk with fruit pieces and crushed ice to give you a tasty treat without the extra sugar and empty calories that traditional desserts may contain.

If you already have ramekins as part of your dinnerware collection, consider filling them with your own signature dips made from yogurt and your choice of seasonings or spices for a unique combination that makes dipping fresh fruit and veggies more appealing than ever!

Already serve seafood, chicken, or steak kabobs? Why not use those same style skewers to serve children fresh fruit or veggie kabobs as a side dish to your traditional menu fanfare. I mean really, who doesn't love food on a stick?

Looking Forward

While healthy dining options for children are certainly important, it's important to also remember that according to the CDC, "the dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries." Simply adding appealing menu offerings will not cure the obesity epidemic, but it will aid in forming healthy lifestyle habits, which can reduce the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases. And while ultimately it is up to the parent to determine what is, and what is not, an appropriate choice for their child, providing more options, and ones that fall within the hottest trends for 2012, certainly can't do anything but help you prosper.

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