How to cater for kids, toddlers & babies

Today’s tots spend twice as much time eating out in restaurants as those who grew up in the 1970s. Figures from Public Health England show significant changes in the nation’s eating habits, with one quarter eating out once a week, and one in 10 more than once a week.

According to NPD Group, there are a whopping 3.18billion eating out visits a year by families, and caterers are ideally placed to profit, but only if they get their offering right. With fears that the UK’s booming restaurant culture is fuelling childhood obesity, caterers also have a role to play in promoting healthy eating.

Healthy choices Nearly one in five 10 to 11-year-olds is obese, while one in three is classed as overweight or obese. Ensuring children and young people get the nutrition they need to fuel their growing bodies is an absolute necessity and a focus for any caterer. But offering exciting and popular dishes which are also healthy and full of flavour presents a challenge.

When planning a children’s menu, Tilda suggests incorporating Tilda Brown & White rice into recipes. The Tilda Together recipe book, which can be downloaded at, features innovative dishes such as Avocado Rice and Peri Peri Salmon, and Caribbean Chicken with Pineapple Rice.

Fussy eaters Parents need to know that an outlet will have something for the whole family – especially younger children and fussy eaters.

“Getting young children to eat vitamin-rich, nutritious foods such as vegetables is sometimes a challenge, but the right presentation will make a big difference,” says Marie Medhurst, director at Bannisters Yorkshire Family Farm. “Fun, accessible vegetable sideschildren can eat with their hands, like corn on the cob or carrot sticks and dips are the easiest sell. Another tip is to disguise vegetables within the sides, like carrot and swede mash or bubble and squeak.

“Often, parents of fussy eaters worry about wasting money on children’s meals that may not be eaten. One solution could be to offer ‘parent’s portions’ – slightly larger versions of standard menu dishes (at a small premium), provided with a small bowl and child-size cutlery for sharing with a child.”

Oh baby! Outlets wanting to attract the ‘family pound’ need to make it clear to customers that babies and toddlers are welcome. Simple touches, like having dedicated areas for families, plenty of highchairs and space for buggies and pushchairs, will make all the difference.

Rachel Neal, senior marketing manager for Uncle John’s Signature Hot Dogs, advises: “Baby-led weaning has become increasingly popular, but many parents worry about leaving a mess under the table or on the highchair. Outlets can embrace the trend by making it clear they don’t need to worry about it – either on the menu, or with a friendly sign that says it’s ok. A dedicated BLW menu, offering a nice selection of healthy, familiar finger foods, sliced fruits and vegetables will be a guaranteed hit with parents.”

Toddlers can be fussy eaters, and it pays to keep things simple. The toddler menu should include plenty of plain choices, like plain pasta and broccoli, simple sandwiches with the crusts cut off, or cheese on toast with a few cherry tomatoes on the side.

With its bright orange colour and sweet flavour, sweet potato mash is ideal for babies and toddlers and can be ready within minutes. Use frozen potato products made with all natural, wholesome ingredients and you’re ticking all the boxes on the health and waiting-time front.

The power of presentation With any children’s menu, presentation can make all the difference. Having options and fun twists, like serving peas in a jug for pouring on the plate, can be really effective ways of making dishes seem more exciting and appealing.

“For older children, providing fun, interactive dishes can be a great way of setting the menu apart from the competition,” adds Rachel Neale. “Whether it’s serving meals with separate sauces for dipping, meals that need to be put together, or DIY, handheld options, introducing interactivity can help to make the children’s menu more enticing and memorable.

“A ‘build your own hot dog’ menu works really well for older children. Create a special menu, where children get to choose from a range of topping ingredients, sauces and sides and assemble it at the table. It provides flexibility and fun, whilst keeping them from getting bored or disruptive.”

Cathal Murphy, senior brand manager for Kerrymaid, agrees. “This approach adds to the fun factor of the meal and is also very on-trend. Pizza and burgers remain one of the most popular foods in the UK for younger customers; fun and easy to eat, youngsters expect to see the popular items on the menu.”

Chips away! Try to avoid offering chips with every dish. Says Marie Medhurst: “With older children, a focus on healthy options while keeping things interesting is key. It doesn’t have to mean whole menu changes, but resisting the temptation to go ‘chips with everything’ reaps dividends.

“One of the easiest ways of setting a children’s menu apart from the competition is to swap chips for more exciting potato sides, like potato skins, dippers or longboats – they offer a bit more fun and interactivity. Offering a range of healthy options, like mash or jacket potatoes, is also an easy way of making children’s menus more appealing to health conscious parents.”

Pizza perfection Pizza is the number one dish on menus (IRI Value Sales w/e 25th March 2017) and the go-to option for parents to select for their children. Dr Oetker Professional are experiencing growing demand for their Deep Dish range as caterers look to widen their offering and give menus a boost with the brand reassurance of Chicago Town.

Says Richard Cooper, senior brand manager, Dr Oetker Professional: “Providing a comparable option to the main menu that is suitable for smaller appetites is an important consideration for any caterer. At 13cm wide, our Deep Dish Pizza gives children the same experience of enjoying a full pizza like their parents are, but at a size that is more suitable for them.”

Build your own desserts As well as main meals, operators can follow the customisation trend when it comes to desserts too, potentially by creating a ‘build your own’ dessert bar. By giving younger customers the choice of their toppings will create further independence and excitement around dessert time, but also parents can be assured their children will be getting nutritional benefits they need with a wide range of toppings on offer if you include plenty of fresh fruit.