Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Children are making bolder food decisions these days. Courtesy Getty Creativea
Children are making bolder food decisions these days. Courtesy Getty Creativea

Healthy tastes inspire sophisticated young palates

Research has shown that children are eschewing traditional junk foods served in restaurants for more grown-up, healthy options. We talk to industry experts about the demise of the kids' menu.

Do you want children to eat their dinner? If so, fill it with fat and sugar and serve it up with a shiny new toy! That, at least, used to be the thinking behind many restaurants that offered customers kids' menus. At one time, no restaurant mini-plate of chicken nuggets designed for smaller appetites was complete without an easily breakable plastic knick-knack to accompany it. Those times, it seems, are now coming to an end.

The US market research group NPD announced last month that restaurant meals with toys are on the way out, while sales of children's menus have dropped by 300,000 covers (customers) since 2005. According to the NPD Restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs, this has happened because children are now as hungry for novelty as their parents.

"Children, especially those over six, don't even want to order from a kids' menu anymore. Their palates are more sophisticated and, just like adults, they want to try new things. It's also possible that mums are having an influence. From our research across the industry, we see that children are ordering fewer French fries, cheeseburgers, nuggets and fried chicken, and more fruit, mini-burgers, chicken wraps and fruit smoothies."

So does this mean children are rejecting the French fries and free Buzz Lightyears of former days and demanding foie gras instead? Not necessarily, but health concerns and new ideas about children's tastes are arguably edging out traditional junk foods favoured by kids. This is partly because parents are worried about the unhealthiness of such meals, which are often packed with sugar, salt and fat to satisfy children's supposed cravings. The children's food expert Annabelle Karmel, who is currently developing healthy children's meals with a regional airline, points out that free gifts are often synonymous with poor quality.

"Very often, when kids are given toys at restaurants, it's also an unhealthy meal that comes with it. Parents are getting very wary of being manipulated by free gifts - it's not as though child obesity and diabetes are exclusively American problems. The UAE actually has one of the worst rates of child diabetes in the world."

Children are also making bolder choices of their own accord. In today's globalised society, worldly wise children are exposed to a wider range of foods early on, and may be less hung up about new tastes than the generation before. While taking my first bite of sushi at age 18 took some bravery, for example, my six-year-old nephew guzzles the stuff without even considering himself adventurous. Karmel, however, insists that adventurousness has always been a part of children's appetites.

"I'm not sure children's appetites are necessarily becoming more sophisticated, it's more that us adults are realising that kids are more open-minded than we thought. When I first started trying out new foods with children [for her 1991 book the NewComplete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner], I was surprised to find that children's palates are actually quite sophisticated and they don't respond well to bland foods. I found that by adding garlic, herbs or cheese - anything but extra salt - to foods such as mashed potatoes, I could make children enjoy them much more.

"More recently in my work with food retailers, I've found children to be very open. At [the UK department store chain] BHS, we've been selling kids' portions of chicken tikka masala, as well as healthier versions of popular foods such as chicken nuggets, while the oriental bento boxes I developed with Mauritius's [Atlantis-owned] One & Only resort also proved hugely popular with children."

While this new openness may sound great, any parent whose child has thrown a dinner-table tantrum may take it with an unhealthily large pinch of salt. Open or not, children are still headstrong. So how can restaurateurs cater to these evermore sophisticated customers? Bonnie Riggs is clear as to the right direction:

"Children need more choices, downsized portions and healthy alternatives."

artslife@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Styled with bleached bobs and pale skin, the models wore clean and sporty separates reminiscent of the chic workwear of The Hunger Games. Courtesy Getty Images

Fashion Forward: Thoughtful tailoring at Asudari

The womenswear label Asudari showcased a collection that featured sharp masculine tailoring, but with feminine silhouettes.

Styled with bleached bobs and pale skin, the models wore clean and sporty separates reminiscent of the chic workwear of The Hunger Games.

Designer Lamia Asudari says she was influenced by Delftware ceramics from the 16th century, as well as the imagery of weaponry and artillery. Indeed, pistols, grenades and guns were emblazoned over jackets and dresses.

 Several of Jo Baaklini's pieces featured fruit prints. Courtesy Getty Images

Fashion Forward: At Starch, watermelon shirts, anyone?

“We need to cultivate our own fashion heroes — our own regional brands,” stressed Fashion Forward’s honcho Bong Guerrero in a press con two weeks ago.

Aptly, the slot for this season’s opening runway show was given to two newbies: Jo Baaklini and Timi Hayek, whose talents were scouted by Starch, a group dedicated to launching emerging Lebanese designers.

Between the two, Mr Baaklini had a stronger showing.

 Jean Louis Sabaji’s collection was very good when the tricks were toned down — like the simple white jumpsuit with a sculptural neckpiece. Stuart C. Wilson / Getty Images

Fashion Forward: Jean Louis Sabaji’s debatable debut

Jean Louis Sabaji’s collection was very good when the tricks were toned down — like the simple white jumpsuit with a sculptural neckpiece, the floral crop top, and the radiant yellow pleated skirt.

But most of the time he went too far. There were bell-bottoms, separates that looked like costumes from The Jetsons, and a yellow dress reminiscent of Bjork’s infamous Oscars swan dress — several disparate elements in one multicoloured, multilayered show.

 Launched in 2009 by childhood friends Arwa Abdelhadi and Basma Abu Ghazaleh, Kage bills itself as a label whose “ultimate goal is to design a collection appealing to all.” Courtesy Getty Images

Fashion Forward: Kage pleases all palates

Did the designers of Kage aim to showcase every type of basic clothing on their latest show?

Because there were skirts, shorts, trousers, off-shoulder tops, short dresses, cocktail dresses, long flowy dresses, spaghetti straps, jackets, hoods — and even pyjamas, which with the incoming summer heat, looked especially appealing.

Launched in 2009 by childhood friends Arwa Abdelhadi and Basma Abu Ghazaleh, Kage bills itself as a label whose “ultimate goal is to design a collection appealing to all”, they said in their statement.

 The standout was a grey hooded cape that created a tension between edge and elegance. Courtesy Getty Images

Fashion Forward: Polish, craft (and fur!) at The Emperor 1688

The best show of Day 1 at Fashion Forward was delivered by the three Golkar brothers behind The Emperor 1688.

The coats and capes were the clear winners: they came in all sorts of interesting colours and sizes — and featured exceptionally tailored proportions. There was a lot of volume, but also stiffness.

And whimsy: two favourites were a green double-breasted suit and a blue overcoat with a red clover pattern and gold buttons.

 Midway through Ezra's show, snow started falling from the ceiling. Ian Gavan / Getty Images for Fashion Forward

Fashion Forward: Ezra stuns in snow-covered show

Turns out the Filipino designer Ezra, known for his dreamy couture, still had a few surprises up his sleeve.

Midway through his show, snow started falling from the ceiling.

It created a starkly beautiful atmosphere for his intricately constructed gowns that seemed to be designed for an Ice Queen transported back to the 1950s.

He showed a collection that had a lot of technical firepower behind it: glittering iridescent fabrics paired with head and neckpieces that were moulded and stiffened to stand out in odd angles.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National