When I joined the company three years ago we already had a really good kids’ menu here.
What we’ve done since then is build on that to create a menu on which every single dish meets our nutrition standards and is a ‘good’ choice. By doing that, we are giving parents the confidence to sit back and enjoy their meal safe in the knowledge that whatever their kids choose will be good food.
The nutrition targets and standards we set every year have always been based on what we think children should be eating every day. We have always included at least one portion of veg per kid’s dish. But when we started planning our 2017 menus, which we are launching this month (May 2017), we decided to step it up to two portions because we thought it was really achievable for us. In fact the new children’s menu features more than two in a few of the dishes and we’re also introducing a five-a-day lunch box which has three portions of veg and two fruit.
For us, the changes we’ve made to our children’s menu are in line with what we’ve also been doing with the adult menu and both are really just responding to consumer demand. That means more vegetarian and healthy options on the menu because that’s what our customers are demanding. That includes the new five-a-day box which comes with a chicken or vegetarian wrap.
But do kids eat the veg we serve them? It’s all very well putting it on the menu, but making sure kids eat it is just as important, if not more so. That’s why we do more than just plonk some vegetables on the plate and hope for the best. Jamie loves salad and wanted to do something fun and interactive to show children that it doesn’t have to be boring. Putting the salad in a jam-jar with dressing which children can shake themselves makes all the difference. Making food fun and interactive means it’s more likely to get eaten!
That’s just one of the tricks we’ve learned. Our pasta sauce looks like a standard tomato sauce but we’ve squirreled away seven vegetables in it – carrots, spinach, swede, onion, butternut squash, courgette and sweet potato.
On the subject of sweet potatoes…on our new kids menu there will be no potatoes – only sweet potatoes. We’ve always tried to steer away from chips and sweet potatoes are so delicious and count as portion of veg, so it’s a double whammy!
Another dish we’re introducing to the menu is pizza, and it’s made with the same secret sauce as we use for the pasta. Since introducing pizzas onto our adult menu, we have seen a huge demand for a kids’ version too. However, we have been careful to make sure this, like all our kids meals, is still healthy option, packing in extra veg in our sauce rather than adding toppings high in salt and fat.
When it comes to planning the kids’ menu, as well as reviewing our nutrition standards and priorities, we also assess the Soil Association Out to Lunch criteria and checklist and try and sit down with them to assess how we can improve further. Customer feedback always plays an important part in the process too. One of the things parents have been telling us is that just having one portion size for children doesn’t work for them. So we’ve now introduced a little kids and big kids size – so it’s up to the parents to decide.
The role of parents is really important and I think it’s up to us to help them as much as we can.
That’s why we have two versions of the kids’ menu. The kids get a viewfinder with photos of all the dishes and can simply pick whatever they like the look of. We give the parents a paper version which has a description of the dish, calorie info and a breakdown of the number of portions of fruit and veg they contain. I think it gives them everything they need to make an informed choice. Some parents have told us they feel uncomfortable about having calorie information on the menu, but rather than remove it we’ve simply included an explanation about what calories really are, to help parents have this conversation in a positive way.
I think the biggest challenge some restaurants can face is that they might have one or two dishes that are healthier or feature veg, but then it can become a fight between parents and their kids over which one to choose. Because we’ve now gone down the route of ensuring all of the dishes on the kids menu are healthy, including the pizza and the mini burgers, we know parents can tell their kids to choose whatever they like.
The best piece of advice I’d offer someone looking to design a kids’ menu would be to make it fun, appealing, interactive, delicious and engaging. That way kids will eat whatever you serve them, including two portions of veg!
Rebecca Bailey-Scott, Assistant Nutritionist, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group