The Power Of Produce On Kids’ Menus

By Brian Darr, Managing Director, Datassential

Fruits and vegetables are the primary go-to healthy foods when parents shop for their kids at the grocery store. This presents valuable opportunities for the produce industry to market fruits and veggies in new, exciting, and innovative ways. It’s also a chance for supermarkets, food suppliers, school foodservice operators, and restaurants to use the power of produce to enhance kids’ meals for both taste and nutrition. Datassential’s Keynote Report on Kids’ Menus combines the extensive detail of the Datassential MenuTrends database with the opinions and behaviors of more than 800 parents nationwide and insight from hundreds of restaurant and school foodservice operators. Here are a few produce insights from the Report.

Produce For Kids At Home

Home is where the “healthy” is — according to our Keynote Report, 85 percent of parents say their kids eat the healthiest meals at home, where they have the most control over their children’s diets. They rank fresh fruits and veggies as a very important factor when they shop for their kids (78 percent). Parents are also working hard to not only get their kids to eat healthy foods but also to enjoy them. It’s no surprise that taste is the prime factor that kids use to determine what they’ll eat.

While parents consider a variety of factors when choosing foods for their kids, 72 percent of parents are trying to get their kids to build up a taste for healthier foods, and 69 percent want to broaden their kid’s food horizon.

There are ways to make vegetables more appealing to children. Portability is paramount, as is the ability for a child to manage the food independently. Fruits and vegetables are well-positioned for on-the-go consideration in pre-portioned snack packs. Parents are also looking to feed their kids “clean” foods that are labeled with terms such as “organic,” “sustainability,” and “ethically sourced.”

In The Lunch Line

While parents attempt to watch what their kids eat, many put their trust in schools to provide quality, nutritious meals. Most kids eat at school cafeterias at least three times per week. Thanks to government mandates and guidelines, K-12 schools are actually doing a substantial job exposing kids to fruits, greens, and new veggies. Potatoes (on 98 percent of K-12 menus) and carrots (on 89 percent of K-12 menus) are the most commonly used vegetables in schools. Carrot-focused dishes and ingredients like glazed carrots, carrot sticks, baby carrots, and peas and carrots are high indexing items. More value-added options for fruit and vegetable applications that save time could play an important role in helping manufacturers reach schools. Prep times are also relevant to the menu development process. Examples include items that are pre-peeled, pre-sliced, ready-to-cook, or pureed.

Schools must also follow strict sodium guidelines. The produce industry may find success promoting their products by showing schools how fruits and veggies add flavor without added salt. Aromatic vegetables that are naturally lower in sodium and packed with flavor include onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.

Going Beyond Traditional Kid Favorites At Restaurants

Half of all U.S. restaurants offer kids’ menus. The majority of parents highly rate these menus for offering foods that children enjoy, but they are less satisfied with the variety of options, the number of healthy choices, and the diversity of dishes and flavors beyond traditional favorites. Unlike schools that have mandates for including fresh produce in meals, restaurants are not held to the same standard. This presents an opportunity for operators to push for new produce menuing beyond French fries. Nutritious sides that include vegetable medleys and carrots (both up 14 percent over the past year) and broccoli (up 9 percent over the past year) are increasingly featured. In addition, healthier juice varieties may be an area that operators explore. Juice is already a popular choice for kids as an alternative to soda. Notable fresh varieties for juice include fresh-squeezed, organic, smoothies, and more. K-12 menus could spark inspiration for creative uses for veggies. Potatoes, carrots, corn, and broccoli are menued at roughly 9 out of 10 schools.

Opportunities For Produce In Kids’ Meals:

Restaurants can aim to move away from traditional kids fare and introduce kids (and parents) to fresh dishes.

Datassential’s Keynote Report on Kids’ Menus shows that kids are more likely to enjoy authentic ethnic cuisines than to dislike them, a key area where veggies can be added.

Understanding what kids at different age levels want and need can help identify solutions to parents’ food challenges.

Fresh fruits and veggies are well-positioned for on-the-go consideration.

Get to know today’s meaning of “healthy.”

For questions or to purchase the report, please contact Brian Darr at 312-655-0594 or

Datassential, a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm, brings clients real-world information on foodservice and consumer packaged goods in the U.S. and around the world. The company’s services, including its extensive MenuTrends database, provide in-depth reporting on trends in menu offerings, flavor profiles, ingredients, and preparations. Datassential helps operators, retailers, and suppliers understand and capitalize on these important trends.