Five top tips - How to create THE winning children’s menu

With kids’ taste buds ranging from adventurous eaters to picky hard to pleasers, it is important that pubs, bars and restaurants have their menu offering spot on to not only satisfy their smallest diners, but their parents too. Maria Bracken provides five top tips on how licensed venues can create a winning children’s menu, whilst also making a healthy profit.

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The trick to creating a quality kid’s menu is to make it so that adults would want to order off it as well

For many parents, choosing where to eat out is not only influenced by convenience and their own personal choice, but also by what their kids want to eat, or should we say, what they want their kids to eat. The trick to creating a quality kid’s menu is to make it so that adults would want to order off it as well.

If done well, introducing a children’s menu could not only improve customer loyalty, but could also grow your bottom line. Therefore, offering top quality food, drink and service is absolutely key.

The Soil Association’s ‘Out to Lunch’ is testament to this. Launched in 2013, the campaign works with restaurants and pub chains to improve the food and service offered to families when they eat out on the high street. Its latest survey in 2019, saw JD Wetherspoon top the league table, with Harvester hot on its heels, followed by Wahaca and Leon. JD Wetherspoon was praised for its range of healthy and filling children’s meals in sizes to suit all appetites. Kids are given a free piece of fruit with every meal and all the options for older kids come with two portions of vegetables.


Healthy kids meals

Since its launch, the Soil Association’s campaign has put organic on the menu at more than a dozen of the UK’s largest chains - including JD Wetherspoon and Harvester - removed 200 tonnes of sugar from children’s menus and put more than 10 million additional portions of vegetables on plates.

Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, says health should be one of the main focus points on all kid’s menus - “The best children’s menus are those that make it easy and delicious for kids to enjoy a healthy meal. It’s a myth that children will only eat junk food, or that children’s menus need to be dumbed down. Parents have told us that they want restaurants to offer smaller portions of adult meals, or at least menus that are diverse and exciting. Some chains are going a step further by serving meals that are both healthy and sustainable, packed with delicious vegetables and sustainable ingredients. In the context of the climate and nature crises, it’s also important that chains serve organic and higher welfare meat, while encouraging kids to enjoy healthier plant proteins.”

Health is a major player within hospitality, there’s no doubt about that. Having said all of that, Tim Foster, founder of Yummy Pubs, believes that there is still a strong market for indulgence - “All of our menus in our pubs are freshly prepped so we control the balance of a healthy plate of food but a burger and chips can only be so healthy, therefore moderation is key. The younger kids are coming out for a treat, it’s as simple as that, so giving them the experience of what an adult can have always sits well with me.”


Experiment with smaller portions

Called ‘little people’, Yummy Pub’s children’s menu does just that. It offers a ‘half the size for half the price’ option, which works well for the business - “We don’t create special dishes for children. Instead we halve the sizes of a range of dishes on our main menus. Our firm favourites are fish and chips, our burgers, salads, and a large range of our puddings,” continues Tim.

“Experimenting with smaller portions of selected adult meals is certainly something to consider. Not all adult meals will be suitable, and children’s menus must be nutritionally balanced according to their age, but many parents would welcome more grown up and adventurous dishes for younger ones,” continues Rob.

Along with the health factor, here are some other key pointers for operators to think about when introducing a children’s menu to their offering:


1. Health is best

Particularly following Covid-19, there has been an even greater shift towards healthy eating. In fact, according to a survey commissioned by the British Nutrition Foundation, 62% of Brits have admitted to making changes to their diet to be healthier over the past year. With this in mind, operators must respond to this demand, and fast. Offering a well-balanced menu with healthy choices and high-quality ingredients will improve your kids menu. Consider including side portions of vegetables as a standard on menus, along with fruit based desserts for a sweet treat. Simply minimising fried products on offer could also create a much healthier menu. Most importantly though, put nutritious food and drink at the heart of your business and always think of innovative ideas to make healthier choices fun and interactive.


2. Go fruity with drinks

Offering healthier drink alternatives is all the rage, especially with children so ensure that fruit based, no added sugar drinks are clearly labelled options and are visible on menus. Position them ahead of sugary drinks to tempt customers. Britvic’s Fruit Shoot range is a popular option - sweetened only with real fruit, using 100% naturally-sourced ingredients, free from preservatives, added sugar, sweeteners and containing no artificial colours or flavourings.


3. Build your own meals

Build your own meals are a big hit with children and parents because they allow the child to take control of their food choices. The Sizzling Pubs Group does this well, allowing kids, or their parents, to build their meal in three easy steps. Kids can choose from sizzling favourites including, pasta bolognese, chicken wrap or veggie lasagne, plus a side and veg option. This is a great way to cross-utilise ingredients and products from other dishes during different times of the day. Ensure you have plenty of options available as people like variety. Offering special offers on children’s menus as well as money off for families will support in increasing footfall and sales. Consider deals such as ‘kids eat for £1 with an adult main’, and don’t forget to use all social media channels to shout about the offer.


4. Make your menu profitable

With parents keeping an even closer eye on what their kids consume, just offering the likes of fish fingers and chicken nuggets is no longer a profitable option. Think about the products and quality ingredients you are already using and utilise them. It’s always more efficient and cost effective when you can leverage a single ingredient or product across multiple menu items. And with the premiumisation trend set to continue, don’t miss out on an opportunity to charge a little more for your more premium items including sauces, dips and drinks.


5. Simplicity is key

Keep it simple. Don’t try to be too fancy when it comes to introducing certain sides, sauces or garnishes to dishes. Keep the offering clean, honest and real. Kids and parents will respond much better to these offerings.

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