According to research from Bookatable.co.uk, which is spearheading the 'Culinary Kids' campaign, 59 per cent of UK parents think food offered to children in restaurants is ‘unhealthy and 'dull'.
The majority of parents feel that restaurants put little effort in to their children's menu, despite 59 per cent of those surveyed choosing where to eat based on the availability of healthy dishes.
“There is no doubt that improvements need to be made to children’s diets across the country,” commented Joe Steele, CEO of Bookatable.co.uk.
“All too often the usual suspects pop up on kids menus like chicken nuggets and pizzas, and the more they eat them the more they are likely to choose what they know instead of trying new healthier foods."
When asked how operators could improve their offering a fifth of parents said they would like more control over portion sizes, 31 per cent wanted chefs to create dedicated tasting menus to encourage children to try new dishes, and 21 per cent said restaurants should provide pictures of meals so children could choose their own healthy options.
“Most restaurants across the UK cater towards this market because these types of dishes help parents keep their children happy when dining out, but our research shows that children are genuinely open to trying more food types – and their parents want to see more expansive, interesting menus on offer for their children," said Steele.
Providing a targeted food offering to children could prove to be a lucrative market, with kids driving £4bn of restaurant visits last year.
Restaurants must act
Chain operators including Busaba Eathai and Las Igunanas are redeveloping their children's menu in support of Bookatable’s campaign.
“To prioritise taste and discovery, we have toned down the spiciness of some of our dishes to accommodate young guests to ensure a delicious dining experience for all the family,” said Laura Ford, marketing manager at Busaba Eathai.
Las Iguanas said it hoped its new menu would encourage children to be more open to world cuisines.
“We are constantly reviewing our children’s menu and we are looking to expand it in the future, introducing a larger selection of smaller portions of adventurous adult dishes like Xinxim & Bahia Moqueca,” said Katie Chatterton, food and beverage manager, Las Iguanas.
As a result of the research Booktable.co.uk has also partnered with Marcus Wareing’s Tredwell's to create an eight-course Kids Tasting Menu designed to ‘expand the palates of little ones with grown up flavours’.
A number of ‘family friendly’ restaurants, including Loch Fyne and Burger King, came under fire earlier this year after it was revealed that their children’s menus contained dangerously high levels of salt.
Steele was optimistic that the campaign could shift restaurant’s attitudes.
“Having partnered with Tredwell’s to reimagine the children’s menu to offer more food diversity and now working with some of the country’s top chain restaurants to develop their menus, we really believe this could be the start of a more adventurous era of children’s dining,” he said.
Bookatable commissioned One Poll to survey 1,000 British parents in May 2015.