Most restaurants offer a kids-only menu of smaller, less-expensive items to help keep dining out an affordable option for families. The typical bill of fare for the 12-and-under set relies on bland standbys: hot dog on a bun, mac-and-cheese, breaded chicken fingers and the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with milk as a boring beverage option.
One of the hottest trends among fast casual operators is to add more flavor and better nutrition to their kid-sized portions, but you might also want to leave some things out to make them even more enticing to parents of kids with food allergies.
According to the latest figures, about 8 percent of all Americans under the age of 18 have some kind of food allergy. That's 6 million kids who could be sensitive to any dish you serve, but the most common offenders are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish and fin fish. Forty percent of kids with food allergies have had at least one severe reaction to something they ate.
All of a sudden, the typical kids' menu loaded with gluten and dairy doesn't look so family-friendly. Every one of the items mentioned above may be bland, but they can cause a reaction ranging from simply unpleasant to life-threatening in someone with a food allergy. So, it's important that your entire staff take seriously any concerns communicated by diners, no matter how trivial they may sound. You won't get a lot of repeat business if parents can't feel comfortable with what you are putting in front of their kids.
As you boost the taste and good-for-you quotient of your kids' menu, look at how to provide safer choices, too. Update the old standbys with gluten-free pastas and breads to make them options for anyone sensitive to wheat or with celiac disease. Turn those breaded chicken fingers into grilled strips with a choice of dipping sauces. Offer carrot sticks or frozen grapes as fun, hand-sized sides.
In fact, just by including more fresh fruits and veggies on the menu in general, you are giving allergic diners of all ages more choices — another hot trend in the industry.
And when you do overhaul your kids' menu, let diners know which items are safe for those with allergies with ingredient disclosure language right on the menu. Diners appreciate not only the effort a restaurant makes to revamp dishes to meet their needs but also as much information as they can get about what you are serving.
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.