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New Evidence Supports Healthier Kids’ Menu

With families dining out so frequently these days, healthier menu options are in demand for the whole family, but especially for children. New research published in


(2015; doi:10.1002/oby.21061) from ChildObesity180, at Tufts University, in Boston, and the university’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, has given a jump-start to the notion that both diners and restaurant retailers can benefit from including more wholesome options for kids. The study shows that often, success lies simply in redirecting long-established mindsets.

Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, PhD, research associate at ChildObesity180 and lead author of the paper, and her colleagues set out to study what would happen if a restaurant not only removed soda and french fries from its children’s menu but also made healthier food items and sides easier to identify. The results? More healthy kids’ meals were ordered, and overall restaurant revenue didn’t suffer.

Researchers examined outcomes before and after the Silver Diner, a full-service family restaurant chain, made adjustments to its children’s menu in order to make healthier items easier to choose. After the menu changes, instituted in April 2012, nearly half of the children’s entrées ordered were from the healthier kids’ meal options (46%, compared with 3% before the changes). The proportion of kids’ meal orders that included at least one healthy side also increased dramatically—from 26% to 70%. Notably, overall chain revenue continued to grow after the menu changes, exceeding that of leading family dining chains during the same time period.

“Our study showed that healthier children’s menu options were ordered a lot more often when those options were more prevalent and prominent on kids’ menus, highlighting the promise of efforts to shift the status quo and make healthier options the new norm,” said Anzman-Frasca. “Given how frequently kids go to restaurants, and evidence that this can be linked with consuming excess calories, offering and promoting healthier menu options could play a role in reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.”

The restaurant chain made three main changes to the children’s menu:

  1. Offered more healthy kids’ meals.

    More kids’ meals met nutrition standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program (59%, compared with 22% before the changes).
  2. Automatically included healthy sides.

    Healthy side dishes—strawberries, mixed vegetables or side salads—were included with all kids’ meals by default.
  3. Took less healthy options off the kids’ menu.

    Fries and sugary drinks, including soda and lemonade, were removed from the menu. They were still available as substitutions at no extra charge, but they had to be requested.

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