Patrick Hynes, Darden RestaurantsI’m not at all surprised the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast finds healthful kids’ meals, and fruit and vegetable sides in kids’ meals, among this year’s top menu trends.
Darden Restaurants’ guests have been telling us they value the same in order to make dining decisions that are right for them and their family.
When I first started in foodservice many years ago, I recall fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy menu options for kids were limited.
The focus we see today on making healthy choices wasn’t the same back then.
Nowadays, the greater emphasis on choosing healthy options and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables is driven by a much greater awareness of the importance of eating right — both by federal dietary guidance and consumer knowledge.
As the world’s largest full-service restaurant company, serving more than 400 million meals annually, we believe we have a leadership obligation to provide our guests with even greater choice and variety that enables them to meet their individual health and wellness needs.
Last year, Darden announced we were establishing specific nutrition standards to guide the development of our healthy kids’ menu options and to help make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Fresh flavor focus
Today, each of Darden’s restaurants offering a kids’ menu features at least one option meeting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans standards for calories, sodium and fat.
Plus, fruits and vegetables are the default side item for every kids’ meal, and 1% milk is the default beverage.
What may get lost in the nutritional details is what has never changed in foodservice — the importance of flavor.
You know and I know that eating more produce doesn’t mean less flavorful meals.
However, we also know kids’ picky palates can easily push fruits and veggies off the plate (and under the napkin).
Development of Darden’s kids’ menus revolves around meals that taste great and that kids would enjoy.
How do we take healthy fruits and vegetables and prepare them as foods and flavors kids want to gobble up?
Kids’ menus serve as the ultimate flavor test for fruits and vegetables.
Regardless, challenge breeds innovation.
That’s why Darden looks for innovative supply partners that can help us bring irresistible new fruit and vegetable flavors to the tables of our young guests and their parents.