BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - At many restaurants the 'Kid's Menu' is an afterthought, but a new study says those eateries should think again. Researchers at Tufts University found that a healthier children's menu led to healthier ordering patterns and sustained restaurant revenue.
"Over 350,000 meals were studied, and the children bought more healthy entrees and more healthy side dishes from this menu change," said Dr. Amanda Staiano, an assistant professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and public affairs chair for The Obesity Society.
The study, published in the scientific journal Obesity, followed a regional restaurant chain as it implemented a healthier kids menu. Salad and fruit became default side items, meaning French fries had to be requested. French fry orders decreased from 57 percent to 22 percent. The number of healthy entrees ordered went from three percent to 46 percent, and those ordering a healthy side dish jumped from 25 percent to 70 percent.
"A lot of time restaurants are worried that maybe their profits might go down if they put a lot of healthy options on the menu," Staiano said. "And in fact this restaurant continued to see growth in profits, so that's exciting too."
It's a trend that's already caught on in Baton Rouge.
"It really confirms some of the anecdotal evidence that we've been receiving that offering healthy options is good for kids. It's also good for business," said Andy Allen, community outreach coordinator for Mayor Kip Holden's office.
Allen also manages the Healthy BR initiative, which encourages healthy lifestyles through a variety of programs.
Through a program called 'Eat Healthy BR,' Allen's office works with restaurants to make menus healthier. The free service includes consultation with a dietician, publicity on city websites, promotional signage, and even free gym memberships for restaurant employees.
The application takes less than five minutes.
"We're happy to help with that situation and connect them to people who can really do analysis on their menu and help them come up with healthier ways to serve the same taste and feel that they're used to," Allen said.
Dr. Staiano said the study proves that people can be nudged into making healthier choices, especially children.
"Give them choices, but make the choices among healthy choices, so 'Would you like these delicious steamed vegetables, or would you like this bowl of strawberries?' so that way they still feel like they're part of the decision-making, but don't give the option of the French fries," she said.