Sausages and chips. Nuggets and chips. Burgers and chips. Plain cheese pizza. The quintessential children’s menu is laden with highly processed foods that are high in calories, loaded with salt and sadly lacking in nutritional value. Not only do these options do the next generation a disservice, but making a change to your children’s menu can benefit your business, too.
Understanding the health impact
The WHO reports shocking statistics when it comes to childhood obesity. Worldwide, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Figures reported in 2016 found that over 340 million people aged 5-19 were overweight or obese; in 2020, 39 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese.
Many items recognisable from the standard children’s menu fall into the category of ‘ultra-processed foods’. The rise of ultra-processed foods has replaced a wide variety of natural whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, meat and dairy, taking a devastating toll on the quality and diversity of our diets. Diets high in these foods are linked with poor health outcomes, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and depression, amongst others.
We have a tendency to overeat ultra-processed foods. One study found that subjects who ate an ultra-processed diet consumed on average 500 more calories per day than those on a diet of unprocessed food.
Most dishes found on the classic kids’ menu are also high in salt. Recent research conducted by Action on Salt across 305 kids’ meals showed that 34% contain two-thirds of a 4-6-year old’s maximum daily limit of salt (2g), while 41% would attract a red label for high levels of salt under the traffic light scheme. Strong evidence suggests that excess consumption of salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for strokes and cardiovascular disease; high consumption of salt in childhood can increase the risk of illnesses later in life. Reducing salt content also helps prevent children from developing a learned preference for salt in the first place.
It’s not just desserts and fizzy drinks that have a high sugar content; even the sugar content in juice can add up quickly, and many highly processed foods are surprisingly high in sugar, too — even the savoury ones.
Is this really what we want to be feeding our next generation? Read on for four reasons why revamping your offering for the little ones makes good business sense.
1. Healthy is trendy
For many parents, choosing where to eat out is not only influenced by convenience, price and personal preference, but also by what they want their children to eat. A strong preference for healthy eating is a key driver in the decision-making process for many consumers. As parents increasingly focus on health in their own diets, those preferences carry into what they want to feed their children, and today’s millennial parents are actively on the hunt for more nutritious and diverse kids’ menus.
One 2020 study showed that 44% of millennials living with kids ages 12 or younger say they'd visit restaurants more often if they updated kids’ menus with more sophisticated options; 29% said they were looking for healthier children’s meal options. Ensure your restaurant is poised to meet this demand.
2. Plan for tomorrow’s customers
Feeding children from a short list of highly processed foods perpetuates the idea that all children are naturally fussy eaters, curbing their curiosity and limiting their opportunities to try new things. Why should this matter to your business? Because some studies show that eating habits formed in childhood are likely to remain into adulthood — and today’s dining minors are tomorrow’s full-fledged customers, complete with spending power. It’s in your best interest to ensure they’ll be tempted by more lucrative options than only burgers and chips.
3. Stand out from the crowd
When efficiently communicated through your website and social media, a really great children’s menu can act as an additional USP for your restaurant, attracting new business, boosting customer loyalty and encouraging positive word of mouth. A selection that marries healthy options with familiar favourites will hit the sweet spot — think pasta sauces packed with hidden veggies, or oven-baked goujons made from real chicken breast.
4. Improve sustainability
Revamping your kids’ menu can even have an impact on the environment — another important concern for today’s customer.
Research suggests that the unhealthiest foods often have the highest environmental impact.
The production of ultra-processed foods typically relies on a small number of crop species, chosen because they are cheap to produce and high yielding. This places a strain on the eco-systems in which these ingredients are grown.
In general, the more processing a food product goes through, the more energy it requires to produce.
On a level more specific to your establishment, using certain ingredients across multiple menu items can help reduce your order size and eliminate food waste. Feeding children similar-yet-simplified versions of items from the adult menu allows for this approach.
Incorporating more whole foods, plant-based proteins and locally-sourced foods into your menu wherever possible is an effective way to offer food that is both sustainable and healthy — for adults and children alike.
How can we help?
Restaurants that can successfully strike the balance between nutritious and delicious will reap benefits in the long run. Nutritics provides accessible, easy-to-understand information on the nutritional properties of your recipes and can help you communicate this to your customers. Get in touch today and chat to one of our experts.
Now that you know why it's important to modernise your kids' menu, click the link below for our best tips on how to go about it!