Foodservice operators know that sometimes their biggest critics can come in the smallest packages; children range from adventurous eaters to picky hard-to-pleasers, and their reaction to your restaurant can make or break their parents’ experience. There are numerous reasons why giving the typical kids' menu a makeover makes good business sense. In this article, we’ve pulled together our best tips for creating a children’s menu that will win over your most discerning diners.
1. Design your children’s menu carefully
A menu that engages a child from the start is an important step in ensuring a successful family meal. Your kids’ menu should be visually appealing and easy to read with a clear, legible font. Kids have short attention spans, and long descriptions can make them lose interest, so keep dish details short and to the point. Bring crayons to the table with the menu and make it fun with games, puzzles, mazes and word searches, leaving blank space for drawing. This is a great way to keep younger kids busy while waiting for the food to come, giving their parents the chance to relax and making it more likely they’ll enjoy their meal experience.
2. Keep the kids in control
‘Build-your-own’ meals allow the little ones to take control of their own food choices. Think along the lines of bento boxes, where a child can choose a main protein and 2-3 sides, or build-your-own tacos or fajitas with a choice of sauces and toppings served in small bowls. Include healthy drink options like milk or no-sugar-added squash as part of the meal deal.
This approach can allow you to cross-utilise ingredients and products that already appear in other dishes on your menu. It also helps avoid the sometimes confusing and costly substitutions that can be requested with a more rigid kids’ menu.
3. Parents want healthy kids’ options
Nutritious is delicious: Millennial parents want healthier options for their children. On your kids’ menu, focus on lean protein, plant-based alternatives, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and fruit and vegetables while limiting the availability of unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Create appealing plant-based versions of classic kiddie meals, such as chicken nuggets, and offer crunchy chopped vegetables as a side dish option. With sodium levels a key concern, make it standard practice in your restaurant not to pre-salt chips for children.
Kids can be highly motivated by small rewards. Why not offer a sticker or something similar for those who choose healthier meals? Meanwhile, it makes sense to keep some “safe”, familiar options, but you can give them small tweaks to make them healthier — and make parents happier. Serve burgers in a wholemeal bun rather than a white one; oven-bake homemade fish fingers instead of deep-frying them.
4. Make your menu allergy-friendly
It’s crucial to include options that cater for kids with allergies or dietary restrictions, and be stringent about labelling. Nutritics can help you manage this, automatically calculating nutritional values, scanning for allergens as you input ingredients and even publishing updates directly to digital menus.
5. Offer half portions of adult dishes where possible
This caters for older kids and tweens who are ready for adult flavours, but not portion sizes; it also means extra choice for customers without adding additional items to your order. This can be as simple as adding a dedicated symbol to suitable dishes, and a note on the kids’ menu to look for said symbol on the grown-ups’ version.
6. Presentation matters when it comes to kids’ meals
While the dishes on your children’s menu don’t require fancy food styling, the way a meal looks is often responsible for how a child will react, so keep it simple. The bento box approach discussed above is often appealing (and takes care of any kids with concerns about different foods touching!). Ditch the garnishes, too — sometimes it only takes a sprinkling of parsley to cause a problem.
7. Offer healthier desserts
While ice cream is a kids’ dessert staple, ensure dairy-free options are included, and keep your selection of sweet treats fruit-forward. Depending on the time of year, think in-season chopped fruit with chocolate sauce for dipping; fruit pies or crumbles; mixed berry sundaes with yoghurt; or homemade fruity ice pops.
8. Price it carefully
For many people, the cost of eating out is one of the most stressful things about going to a restaurant, especially if the family includes several kids or hungry teenagers. This is why it is important to think carefully about the pricing of your children’s menu. Ensure kids’ portions are reasonably sized in order to keep prices attractive, as well as minimising food waste. You could also introduce free meals for younger children during those early dinner hours when it can be harder to fill tables, say from 4-6pm; not only do these times suit families with young children, but you’ll be drawing in business that you otherwise wouldn’t.
For more advice on recipe, menu and allergen management, book your free demo today.