May 22/New York/NPD Group -- Kids' meals with toys are no longer the draw they once were for the restaurant industry's youngest customers, according to The NPD Group.

NPD's foodservice market research reports that restaurant visits that included an order for kids' meals with a toy have been declining for the past several years. For the year ending December 2011, restaurant visits that included a kids' meal with a toy declined by 6% compared to the same year-ago period.

A contributing factor to the decline is that dining parties with children have reduced their visits to restaurants in the past several years.

In 2006, there were 21 billion parties-with-kids' visits to restaurants, 17 billion of which were to quick-service restaurants. In 2011, there were 19.5 billion parties-with-kids' visits to restaurants, 15 billion of which were to QSRs.

"In addition to the economic factor, kids have become more sophisticated, and just like adults, they want to try new things, new foods,' said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "Kids have a wider variety of foods and flavors available to them today than they have in the past."

Additionally, Riggs said that children and moms are responding to restaurants marketing and packaging more healthful foods in ways that appeal to children. NPD's Crest research finds that kids are eating more healthful options, including fruit, chicken wraps and fruit smoothies, and eating less foods and beverages considered less healthy.

"Kids are different today than they were a decade ago. They want to grow up fast and don't want to be thought of as kids. Moms are also more concerned with the foods that their kids are eating," Riggs said. "Restaurant operators and foodservice manufacturers understand this and are offering more varied options on kids' menus, downsized portions, and healthy alternatives."

 From the May 23, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily News