Kids are ordering more salads, and they know the difference between healthy and unhealthy choices when they eat out, a study says.

Kids want salads at restaurants, Technomic survey finds

A survey of 1,500 mothers and 1,200 of their children supported the idea that kids know good and bad choices in terms of health. Almost 90% of the children surveyed, ages 6-12, said fresh fruits and vegetables were healthy, while 78% said salads were healthy and 76% put steamed vegetables on that list, said Sara Monnette, senior research manager for Technomic Inc. and a co-author of the study.

That figure was closer to 50% for fish, cheese, chicken and peanut butter.

Chicago-based Technomic, a foodservice consultant, partnered with Creative Consumer Concepts (C3), Overland Park, Kan., on the Kids & Moms Consumer Trend Report: Family Attitudes and Motivations in Foodservice.

Although salads are now a leading entrée items on kids’ menus for many full-service restaurants, it is more often an older child who will choose them, the study found.

“Older kids are far more likely to choose steak, seafood or salad, while the younger kids picked pizza, chicken fingers and spaghetti,” Monnette said.

Monnette said the study found few differences in kids’ choices of side dishes depending on age, except when it came to their preference for either fresh fruit or a side salad.

“The younger kids were a lot more likely than older to say they’d choose fresh fruit as a side,” Monnette said. “The older kids were more likely to pick a side salad.”

Moms were also surveyed about the choices they made concerning their kids. They said the things they thought about when deciding where to dine out were food quality, restaurant cleanliness, value and consistently good service. Quick-service restaurants won them over as more kid-friendly than fast-casual and family-style restaurants, but Panera and Chipotle were their top choices if they went for fast-casual and Applebees if they chose full-service.

Chick-fil-A and McDonalds were the top quick-service restaurants for kids, the moms said.

Monnette said Technomic is considering doing another survey geared more toward school cafeteria eating, as this one was restaurant-focused. She said the company asked a few questions about school vending machines and the choices kids make at school in this survey but wants to do more.

“I definitely think there’s greater demand for healthy foods on menus, especially kids’ menus,” Monnette said. “Parents take importance in the fact that restaurant operators are providing healthier options. They’re expecting to see those items on menus.”

Parents and kids alike expect to see vegetables prepared flavorfully, and organic and natural items available, Monnette said. Whether or not kids ordered them, parents want to see them offered, she said.

One survey result revealed that parents became less concerned with healthful options on kids menus as their children got older. For parents of 2- to 5-year-olds, 43% said not seeing healthful options would negatively affect their perception of the restaurant. For parents of 10- to 12-year-olds, that percentage was down to 34%.

“It goes down as kids get older because they’re more likely to order off the adult menu, and there are more healthy items there,” Monnette said.

Looking at the same question by ethnic group, Hispanic and Asian consumers reported being more negatively affected by a lack of healthful options for kids, Monnette said.

More information, including an analysis of kids’ menus in chain and emerging chain restaurants, an examination of kids’ marketing programs and trends in kids’ dining, is available through Technomic.