Conventional wisdom says that kids only prefer junk food over healthier options. Therefore many children’s menus in restaurants include options that health-conscious parents hate. However a new study suggests that all this may not necessarily be true. When one restaurant chain removed unhealthy items and replaced them with healthier options, not only did orders of healthy foods increase, but the restaurant’s revenue continued to grow.
The study was carried out by researchers at Tufts University in the US and published in the journal Obesity. It followed a full-service family restaurant chain that changed its children’s menus to make healthier food easier to order. The study looked at two data items from before and after the changes were made: the ordering patterns relating to children’s meals, and the restaurant’s sales data. The study analysed data from more than 350,000 children’s meals, and also included random subsampling of individual checks both before and after the menu was changed. What the researchers found goes counter to the common belief.
“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 Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, Ph.D., research associate at ChildObesity180 and lead author of the research. “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 vital changes to its children’s menu. First, it offered more healthy meals for kids, as per the nutrition standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program. Second, kids meals by default included healthy side dishes, such as salads, strawberries or mixed vegetables. Third, it removed less healthy options, such as french fries and sugary fountain drinks such as lemonade and soda, from the kids menu. Those options were still available at no extra cost, but they had to be specifically requested.
The changes in the menu were made in April 2012, and since then nearly half (46%) of the children’s orders were healthier food options. This is contrasted against the 3% of such orders before the menu changes were made. The most dramatic change was seen in the kids’ meals that included at least one healthy side dish: 70% after the change compared to 26% of orders before the change in the menu. What is more, overall chain revenue grew steadily after these changes were incorporated and even outpaced revenues of other leading family dining restaurants that were looked at during the same period.
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