Panera says goodbye to gimmicks in children's meals

by Rebekah Schouten
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Panera Kids menu
Panera's new children's menu features more than 250 clean label combinations.
 

ST. LOUIS — Panera Bread is introducing “a new approach to kid food,” the company said, offering nearly any item on the restaurant’s menu as a smaller size entree. The result is a children’s menu with more than 250 clean label combinations.

Ron Shaich, Panera
Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and c.e.o. of Panera Bread

“For too long, restaurants in America have served menus full of nutritionally empty chicken nuggets, pizza and fries, paired with sugary drinks and cheap toys,” said Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Panera Bread. “We believe kids must come first. As a parent, I’m proud that I could eat off the Panera kids menu and still enjoy delicious and wholesome meals. I’m challenging the c.e.o.s of some of the largest companies in the industry — McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s — to personally eat exclusively from their restaurants’ kids meals for an entire week — and if not, to take a thoughtful look at what they are offering our smallest guests."

Panera Kids meal
Children may choose any entree off the menu at a smaller size paired with a healthier side and beverage.
 

In August 2016, Panera issued its Kids Meal Promise, meant to be a challenge to the restaurant industry and all food manufacturers that offer food for children. The five-tenet commitment includes:

  • Clean – No artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or colors from artificial sources in any menu item (as defined in Panera’s No No List)
  • No marketing gimmicks – No cartoon characters, crazy colors, toys or toy-shaped food
  • Real options – Allow children to make their own choices from a menu of wholesome options
  • Nutritiously paired – No fries or onion rings as sides. Instead, options such as organic yogurt, sprouted grain rolls, apples or no side at all
  • No sugar-laden drinks as part of a meal – Children’s meals are never bundled with a sugary beverage

Sara Burnett, Panera Bread
Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy for Panera Bread

“At Panera, we say let kids be picky — our cafes should offer the same choices and transparency to children as we do to adults,” said Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy for Panera. “We’re not saying a child will suddenly order a salad over mac and cheese – but kids can surprise you when they have positive options to choose from. We believe that kids should have that choice, and furthermore that we should not bundle their entrees with fries and sugary drinks that make the combination a nutritional nightmare. Finally, we believe we should not induce the consumption of these nutritionally empty meals by marketing a kids meal with toys and cartoon characters.”

Panera’s new take on its children’s menu has garnered support from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“Panera rightly recognizes that healthy eating habits are about more than what kids eat, but also how and why,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “In an era when so many companies seek to manipulate kids with marketing, Panera’s approach is respectful of parents and children alike. When kids have the space to discover new tastes without the lures of giveaways and gimmicks, they’re more likely to develop a healthy relationship with food.” 
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