Kids menus adapt to meet the changing tastes of young diners—and their parents

Vegetables like sweet potato and broccolini are gaining menu popularity, while traditional kid-friendly fare seems to be losing steam.
garbanzo kids meal
Photo courtesy of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh

Goodbye, mac and cheese. Hello, broccolini. 

Parents have been calling for healthier, more varied fare on children's menus, and restaurants appear to be responding. Kids' menu stalwarts like chicken nuggets and mac and cheese are showing up on children's menus less often than in pre-pandemic days, while mentions of grilled cheese sandwiches have dropped by about one-tenth, according to Technomic Ignite Menu data.

Meanwhile, vegetables like sweet potato and broccolini are gaining steam. While broccolini has typically been rare on kids' menus, mentions of the vegetable have jumped 28% year over year, says Technomic, a sister company of FoodService Director. Alternative proteins are also more popular on kids' menus lately, up 17%. 

Operators are also treating children to more grown-up selections, most of which fall under the broad heading of “kids specialty dish." For example, both Daphne’s Greek Cafe and fast-casual Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh offer falafel on the kids menu, which Technomic considers a specialty dish. 

Young palates are treated to pretty sophisticated fare at Legal Sea Foods, where the kids menu includes Popcorn Shrimp, Cheese Ravioli, Grilled Salmon and even half a steamed lobster removed from the shell. 

Even pizza concepts are giving children fancier options. Kids Five Cheese Tortellini with grilled chicken breast and spinach is a current menu selection at Ledo Pizza.

Much of this effort is being done to appease millennial parents: According to Technomic’s 2020 U.S. Generational Consumer Trend Report, more than half (51%) of parents in that age group strongly agree that healthier kids selections would drive them to restaurants more often.

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