Kids’ fruit and vegetable consumption may be on the rise, according to recent research from NPD Group, but parents report the most problems getting their kids to eat produce when they’re eating out.

Among numerous initiatives to curb childhood obesity in large part by influencing the foodservice industry to serve more healthful dishes to children, some restaurants are ahead of the game.

Children’s menus are getting more creative in their use of produce going beyond the apple slices and carrot sticks.

Most parents want to provide the right foods and beverages for their children, and more parents are taking children to restaurants, said Kevin Higar, director of research and consulting services for Technomic Inc., Chicago. These dynamics are making the incorporation of fruits and vegetables into kids’ menu offerings both feasible and desired, he said.

Being a part of their parents’ meals at restaurants can influence them to try to enjoy the same foods their parents are eating, he said.

“This is giving chefs incredible leeway to apply those same preparation and flavor skills to certain items on the kids’ menu,” Higar said.

Higar expects to see similar trends in child menus as adults, including the prevalence of ethnic influences and even international street food.

Phoenix-based True Food Kitchen has an entire menu of healthful options, and has given a new spin to food children are comfortable with on its kids’ menu. One children’s dish is a strawberry and banana sandwich on grain-nut bread.

The concept was devised by a parent of four. Its third location is set to open in Scottsdale, Ariz., soon.

At Moorpark, Calif.-based Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill the kids’ menu starts off like most others with burgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese, but pairs some more adventurous entrees, like a BBQ Tri Tip Sandwich and Fresh Atlantic Salmon, with a choice of 10 side dishes, including carrot sticks, steamed broccoli, smashed sweet potatoes and grilled fresh white corn.

Among the national chains, Red Robin’s revamped kids menu includes cantaloupe wedges, carrots with dip and apple slices. The chain operates more than 430 restaurants nationwide.

Burger King Apple Fries (not fried, but shaped like French fries) and McDonald’s apple slices are still going strong. While the fruit and vegetable option may not always be chosen at the restaurant, it is important that it be available, Higar said.

The National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot report had nutritious children’s meals in its top ten trends for 2010. Almost 70% of the chefs queried for the study said fruit and vegetable children’s side items were still at hot trend at the beginning of the year.