Hooking kids on healthful seafood
Parents want their kids to eat a healthful meal when they visit a restaurant, while kids want something fun and tasty. Operators are answering both demands with seafood items on kids’ menus.
Seafood is high in lean protein, and some popular options such as salmon contain Omega-3 fatty acids, while others like cod, tilapia and mahi-mahi are popular for their mild taste and culinary versatility.
Consumers are seeking these items for themselves and their children. In fact, “healthful kids’ meals” was ranked third among the Top 20 Food Trends on the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast, while sustainable seafood was ranked fifth.
Restaurant operators say it’s important to offer seafood on kids’ menus.
“For parents, it’s finding a way to give kids something that has a good amount of lean protein with complex carbohydrates,” says David Goldstein, chief operating officer of Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, based in Westlake Village, California. “It is a way to come in the side door of nutrition.”
Goldstein says kids’ meals account for 5 percent of sales annually at Sharky’s. Popular items include the Kid’s Bowl, which contains a choice of chicken, organic tofu or salmon, with organic rice and organic beans. There is also the Kid’s Power Plate, which contains chicken, organic tofu or salmon, organic poblano brown or organic Mexican style rice, and a choice of broccoli, grilled vegetables or yams.
“The salmon has a nice grilled texture to it, and mild seasonings, so it‘s a very clean and simple menu item,” Goldstein says. “For some kids it would be a challenge to try salmon in a real ‘froufrou’ way, such as with miso glaze with ginger compote.”
While the simple presentation appeals to kids, the healthfulness appeals to parents. To make it easier for parents to choose healthful items, and for operators to highlight that they offer these, the NRA offers its Kids LiveWell program in collaboration with Healthy Dining. Participating restaurants get third-party verification and promotional materials. Parents can see the Kids LiveWell logo next to menu items which meet nutritional criteria.
At Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen four of the five Kids’ Meals are seafood: Fish Tenders, Popcorn Shrimp, Grilled Fish Tenders, and one-piece Batter Dipped Fish. Jason Henderson, vice president of product innovation for the Nashville, Tennessee-based chain, says the grilled fish tenders have the Kids LiveWell seal on the menu. “Five years ago we put grills into every one of our Captain D’s,” he says. “That allows us to do seared healthy grilled fish.”
Henderson adds that there has been much research indicating that eating seafood with Omega-3 acids twice a week can cut the risk of heart disease, so it makes sense to get kids to do this early. “It’s a decision that you can make to change a significant statistic in terms of mortality,” he says. “If you are able to do that when you’re young, it’s easier to make it part of your behavior.”
Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar in Sacramento, California, adds a healthful variation to its Kids’ Meal menu with its Pan Seared Tilapia Filet served with coconut rice and green beans. “Our tilapia was an idea we came up with a couple of years ago,” says executive chef Bill John. “People talked about healthier foods for their kids. We thought of something lighter with ingredients we had on hand.”
At Tampa, Florida-based Bonefish Grill, the kids’ menu includes Grilled Tilapia with fresh veggies or French fries, while Bahama Breeze also offers Grilled Fresh Tilapia on its kids’ menu.
One way to get kids to try seafood is by making the food fun to eat. Amy Myrdal Miller, president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, a culinary and nutrition communication firm in Carmichael, California, says one local eatery offers unique, appealing fish tacos. “The fried fish and celery seed spiked coleslaw is wrapped in a quesadilla versus a plain tortilla,” she says. “The quesadilla component seems to be a gateway to get kids to try fish tacos.”
At Charlotte, North Carolina-based Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, the Mahi Tacos and the Shrimp Tacos are a big hit. “Kids are looking for something interactive,” says executive chef Steven Sturm. “Anything their mom and dad let them pick up with their hands — it’s kind of cool for them.” The Mahi Tacos contain creamy cabbage and avocado pico, and the Shrimp Tacos have creamy cabbage and pineapple salsa.
Both tacos and the Wood Grilled Mahi have the Kids LiveWell logo. “Kids LiveWell is very strict with fat content and calories,” Sturm says. “Seafood is an easy way to deliver a product which meets the criteria.”
Also, the entrées come with two sides, which can make the meal more healthful to the parents and more delicious for the kids. “Mom and dad get a side that is a little healthier, and the kid picks an indulgent side,” Sturm says.
Vasili Hatziris, founder of Malibu Restaurant Group, Inc., says it is important to introduce kids to seafood early. “Seafood is both nutritious and delicious and has so many health benefits during the developmental stages of one’s life and continues well into adulthood and beyond,” he says. “The earlier we expose our children to seafood, the more likely it will become a culinary lifestyle choice for them for years to come.”
At Malibu Fish Grill, which has four locations in the Los Angeles area, the crispy fish sticks are made with Wild Atlantic Cod, which Hatziris says is prepared by hand dipping each order in a house-made batter, flash-frying to a golden crisp in a zero grams trans-fat oil to keep them light and flavorful.
Other operators offer white fish on their kids’ menus. At Rubio’s, the Kids’ Original Fish Taco is made with Wild Alaska Pollock, and includes two sides, and the child can choose among “No-Fried” Pinto Beans, Black Beans, Mexican Rice, Citrus Rice, Churro, Tortilla Chips or Applesauce. At Irvine, California-based Yard House, the Fish Sticks on the kids’ menu are battered white fish with tartar sauce. “Seafood on kids’ menus is becoming increasingly popular, especially as parents look for healthier options for their families,” says founder Ralph Rubio.
Clearly, more parents are educating themselves on the importance of eating the right types of seafood prepared in the most healthful way. “This awareness and constant education undoubtedly gives children a head start on their lifelong journey to health and wellness,” says the Malibu Restaurant Group’s Hatziris.
Allied content by Penton Restaurant Group