10 Easy Ways to Make The Kids Menu Healthier

Ten ingredients that improve the health of kids' restaurant menus

Cook of a little restaurant preparing lettuce in the kitchen
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More and more people are eating out. Families are eating out 15% more than 20 years ago. Restaurants are in a unique position to help increase healthy options for customers. One area in particular where restaurants can help improve healthy eating options is for their kid customers.

Meals Away From Home

Meals away from home generally tend to be higher in saturated fat and sodium than meals families eat at home.

75% of kids today exceed the daily recommendation of saturated fat and total fat in their diets.* It’s hard to deny the link between the growing obesity epidemic among kids and the food restaurants serve. The good news is that restaurants, who take a lot of blame for people’s personal behaviors, are in a position to be catalysts of change in the way Americans eat. Incorporating healthy changes in kids menu is one of the easiest ways to start. Many of these changes are easy to adapt to regular menus for adult patrons.

Fresh Salads

We eat with our eyes first and kids are no exception. A salad of fresh garden greens, bright red tomatoes and zesty orange carrots paired with low-fat or fat-free dressings is an excellent lunch or dinner option for kids. Or, for a fun finger food, serve up a platter of crudités, such as slices of red and green peppers, carrots, zucchini or any other fresh vegetables you keep on hand in the restaurant kitchen.

Fresh Fruit

Many restaurants garnish dinner plates with fresh fruit such as strawberries, oranges, or watermelon. All this fresh chopped fruit makes a perfect side dish for kids meals. A cup of fresh chopped strawberries equals one daily recommended serving of fruit. Even though fresh fruit can be pricy, it is low in labor costs – just chop and serve.

*(Medline, 2006. Ogden et al. JAMA; 195:1549-55. Hadley et al. JAMA; 291:2874-2850.)

Fruit Juice

Many restaurants keep orange and cranberry juice on hand for mixed drinks. Up your selection by offering individual juice boxes or bottles of fruit juices, as an alternative to soda. Make sure you are buying 100% fruit juice, not juice drinks. A case of juice boxes or bottled juice, when bought in bulk has a reasonable food cost and is shelf stable for long periods of time.

Whole Wheat Bread

Say goodbye to soft white Wonder Bread.

Switching to whole wheat, whole grain, or multi-grain breads for sandwiches, dinner and burger rolls is a simple way to improve a child’s menu. Many commercial bakeries offer affordable, tasty whole wheat bread selections that are in line with food costs.

Whole Wheat Pasta

Spaghetti and meatballs and macaroni and cheese are staples on many children’s menus. Switching to whole wheat pasta is another easy and affordable way to improve the nutrition on a kids restaurant menu.

Low-Fat Yogurt

Like fresh fruit, low fat or no fat yogurt is healthy side dish that is low in calories and high in calcium, which is good for growing bodies. A bonus of prepackaged yogurt is that it has a fairly long shelf life of several weeks and can be ordered in bulk for lower food cost.

Low-Fat Milk

Offering skim milk or 1% milk can cut down on fat and calories in kids meals. Including it as a choice with kids meals along with soda (rather than charging extra) send s a good message to parents that you value their kids health over profits.

Turkey Hot Dogs 

Hot dogs are a perennial favorite on kids menus. But they are one of the worst foods you can feed growing bodies. If you aren’t ready to give up the hot dog (or worse, corn dog) on your restaurant kids menu, consider switching to lower fat turkey dogs served in a whole wheat bun.

Grilled Chicken 

Many restaurants serve grilled chicken as part of their regular menu, for caesar salads, sandwiches, wraps and nachos.

Strips of grilled chicken are great for kids to dip into low fat dressing or top their salads for a boost of protein.

Local Foods

 According to Local Harvest the average commute for fruit and vegetables in the United States is 1500 miles. Yikes! For that reason commercially grown fruit and veggies are engineered to withstand travel over long distances. Local foods travel a fraction of that distance and still maintain their appearance, taste and nutrients, without any bioengineering. Read more about buying local foods.