Win over with families by swapping French fries for good, old-fashioned fun.
According to data published in JAMA, “diseases linked to unhealthful diet and lifestyle choices, such as diabetes and cancer, are the leading causes of death in the United States.” Jamie Oliver, Chef and Activist kicks off his 2010 Ted talk “Teach Every Child About Food” with a harsh truth: “In the next 18 minutes, four Americans will be dead from food that they eat.”
As leaders and upstanding citizens in the food service industry there is a responsibility to help support the mission to teach today’s youth about food and how to make healthy choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “for children and adolescents aged 2–19 years in 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity was 19.3 percent and affected about 14.4 million children and adults.”
So, what role can restaurants play in helping to curb childhood obesity?
As a parent, I feel compelled to share this simple, yet big idea: Kids can eat the same food as everyone else in your restaurant. OK, I should preface that. Kids can eat the same food as everyone else in your restaurant, provided it doesn’t contain any allergens that they need to avoid. It’s kind of like the whole concept behind Halloween candy; would kids ever know it was a “thing” if we never introduced them to it? Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they can only eat French fries and chicken fingers. How about offering a kid-size version of every item on your menu?
If the kids’ menu is supposed to serve as some element of entertainment how about ditching the practice of only offering not-so-healthy options at all and actually offering some entertainment. Pizza Brutta (Madison, Wisconsin) knows its stuff when it comes to this concept. Since all their pizzas are made to order in a wood burning stove, they give each child a ball of pizza dough to play with while they wait—genius. Here are a few other ideas, in case you don’t have pizza dough at the ready:
- Clean Plate Challenge: Honestly, what parent wouldn’t love this? Especially when their kiddos are eating healthy food. Children 12 and under get to pick from a treasure chest or prize bin once they’ve eaten all their main protein and veggies.
- Manager in Charge: Involve them in “running the restaurant” by having them take their family’s food to the table (only the cold plates of course).
- Ring Master: Give them an important job like giving out balloons to other kids as they walk in the door.
- Scavenger Hunt: Send pint-sized guests on a mission for a small, random item that is hidden somewhere in the dining area (provided it is not near other guests); or by asking the server a random question like what they had for breakfast.
- Reward Tokens: Hand out tokens to kids so that they can occupy their time by playing the ping-pong machine instead of fighting with their brother and driving their parents nuts in the waiting area on a busy night.
You get the idea—ditch the fried food and pull out the mascot suit. This is where creativity is encouraged. Kids will have fun and parents will be thrilled to see their kids excited about eating healthy food. These will be the things kids remember and will keep them asking to come back again and again, no matter how many French fries they had, or didn’t have.
As both a marketer and food allergy parent, Katie Moreno has been navigating her way through the chaos and confusion of food allergies for the past seven years. She believes restaurants have the potential to convert people impacted by food allergies from one-time visitors into some of their most loyal customers, but restaurants need to win them over first. She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin. Find more stories from Katie on Medium: https://medium.com/@katielynnmoreno