Restaurant kids’ menus often seem like an afterthought across restaurant segments—with the same hamburgers, chicken strips, and French fries commonly offered. These fried options are likely why a lack of healthy kids’ menu items is a top concern among parents. According to Mintel Menu Insight (MMI) survey research, 74% of parents agree that there are not enough healthy kids’ menu options.

In order to remedy this problem, some restaurants are taking steps to provide more fresh ingredients and flavors on kids’ menus. Healthy as a menu item claim for kids’ menu items increased 33% from Q1 2016-Q1 2019, according to MMI.


Fresh Alternatives

One effective way to cater to parents’ interest in healthier options is by offering substitutions for fried sides and entrees for existing kids’ meal options that customers already love. Operators are increasingly offering more grilled and fresh options on kids’ menus in general as fried as a preparation method for kids’ meals decreased 6% from Q1 2016-Q1 2019, according to MMI.

Burger King offers BK Fresh Apple Fries (peeled apple slices) as a side instead of traditional french fries and Smashburger offers grilled chicken strips as part of its kids’ menu. In June 2018, McDonald’s created new criteria for its Happy Meals to contain 600 calories or less, which included reducing the size of its fries. In 2019, the chain has vowed to continue to make improvements to its kids’ meal including cutting sodium in its Chicken McNuggets and cutting sugar in its kids’ chocolate milk.


Diverse Tastes

Many operators are going further than reinventing sides by offering smaller portions of existing menu items on kids’ menus. Younger diners are more adventurous eaters than previous generations and more likely to desire the international flavors and fresh ingredients on existing menus. Furthermore, kids’ meals featuring traditional American cuisine are on the decline. For example, North American and BBQ both declined directionally as kids’ menu cuisine types from Q1 2016-Q1 2019.

Sara Burnett, Panera Bread’s vice president of wellness and food policy, has seen this shift first hand. She told delegates at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in April 2019 that “kids are becoming more exploratory, where they might try a salad one time and something else another time. We definitely see it go up with age, where we see a shift in consumption of these broader palate choices and dietary patterns.”


Say Olé

Flavors are especially taking off on kids’ menus as Mexican—as a cuisine type—increased 10% for kids’ menus from Q1 2016-Q1 2019, according to MMI. 

The customization options of ingredients in many popular Mexican menu items such as tacos, quesadillas and bowls make this cuisine type especially attractive for kids’ menus. Trending menu item dishes on kids’ menus include tacos up 27% and enchiladas up 33%. Guacamole also is up +107% as an ingredient in kids’ menus from Q1 2016-Q1 2019 according to MMI.

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