Can we all agree that most kids' menus are the pits? They're typically a sad and limited assortment of hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and French fries. Having small, lower-priced meal options? Great! Having such a lame selection of foods? Not so great.
At long last, a chain restaurant finally GETS IT when it comes to the kids' meals. Panera Bread just announced that they're opening almost their entire menu to children, offering all soups, sandwiches, and salads in half-sizes.
It's now possible for kids to pick from 40 entree choices plus side options like organic yogurt, a sprouted grain roll, or apple--totaling more than 250 meal combinations (just two entrees are excluded: a broth bowl and a chicken pasta). The expanded kids' options are available now at all Panera locations.
Last year Panera released a "Kids Meal Promise" which states that they won't use artificial flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners, or synthetic food dyes--or promote sugar-sweetened drinks to kids. Water is the default beverage served with kids meals, with milk and 100 percent juice as options.
Panera is also asking other restaurants to take a look at their kids menus. "Our intent was to create a conversation about this issue in our food culture," said Sara Burnett, Director of Wellness and Food Policy for Panera. "In the U.S. we have 'kid food', but it's not always the best food."
Panera's founder and CEO, Ronald Shaich, issued a public challenge to other chain restaurants. "For too long, food chains in the United States have served our children poorly, offering menu items like pizza, nuggets, fries, accompanied by cheap toys and sugar-laced drinks," he said in a video message. "I challenge the CEOs of McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King to eat off of their kids' menu for a week or to reevaluate what they're serving to our children in their restaurants."
As I dietitian, I couldn't be more thrilled with this move—and with the CEO's challenge. Families eat out so frequently these days. Kids should have access to the same food adults have, not a dumbed-down menu of unhealthy "kid" foods. Way to go, Panera! Let's hope other restaurants follow your lead.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.