Hotel Industry Wakes Up to Healthier Kids Menus

PHOTO: JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts has partnered with nutritionist and author Keri Glassman to create a new JW Kids Menu.

Salmon teriyaki or steak?

And that's just from the kids menu. Hyatt Hotels has launched a For Kids, By Kids Family Cook-Off recipe contest.

The contest commemorates the second year of the initiative with new enhancements that provide healthy, interesting food choices for kids developed with the help of 12-year-old Chef Haile Thomas, who has cooked for first lady Michelle Obama.

The first lady famously has made combating childhood obesity and encouraging a healthier lifestyle one of her signature issues. Here's what Obama told TakingtheKids exclusively about vacationing healthier on vacation by staying active and encouraging kids to eat better on vacation.

To that end, Hyatt is inviting families to create and share a healthy breakfast recipe, along with a photo via Facebook for a chance to win a vacation at a Hyatt resort and a spot on Hyatt's For Kids, By Kids Menu.

Salmon Teriyaki for Kids by Hyatt

At the same time, JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts has partnered with nutritionist and author Keri Glassman to create a new JW Kids Menu. (As starters, think fresh-cut cucumber and carrot sticks with a low-fat yogurt ranch dip or cheese cubes and grapes.)

I like the "This, That & the Other" section that is designed to help kids make their own healthy choices, mixing and matching from the menu, with kids helped by games and activities that teach nutrition lessons.

"Travel presents opportunities to try new things and even lets kids bring new food favorites or habits home with them," Glassman said at the launch. "The new JW Kids Menu helps kids accomplish just that."

In the past year, more hotel chains have revamped their kids menus to make them healthier with less fat and sugar, as well as prepared with locally sourced foods. Fairmont has launched a Fairmont-wide initiative to improve and upgrade kids menus with fresher, local ingredients designed to encourage kids to try foods from British Columbia, Mexico or San Francisco where the menu includes recipes with honey from the hotel's rooftop bee hives.

Hyatt Waffle-Dipping Sticks

The trend is evident at ski resorts, too. Keystone in Colorado, a Vail Resort, for example, has initiated the National Restaurant Association's Kids Live Well Initiative designed to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies, whole grains while limiting fat, sugar and sodium. At Keystone's Mountain House base lodge, that means a chicken taco or teriyaki chicken noodle bowl at the Ripperoo Kids Station (designed so kids can reach to order themselves).

For lunch at Hyatt Hotels, kids can "build their own whole wheat sub sandwich" or "top their own" breakfast taco. They can order scrambled eggs and chicken sausage with a fruit skewer or an organic turkey burger with house made ketchup for lunch.

"Kids are 100 percent more sophisticated eaters," says Kenneth Juran, the executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, which welcomes many junior foodies.

"There are a lot less requests for chicken fingers and fries," he said, adding that kids these days consider being in touch with food and what they are eating as "cool … like being part of the in crowd."

At the hotel's family-friendly Cascades restaurant, he noted, kids might try the Asian noodle station at the breakfast buffet, or opt for celebrated chef and founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project Alice Waters three-course kids menu for dinner, starting when we visited with a hearts of romaine salad with apples, Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette, a grilled chicken breast with carrots and potatoes with green aioli and strawberry and orange slices for desert.

Kids love the pots of herbs brought to the table that they can snip themselves for their plates.

Even in Orlando, where many people think -- wrongly -- there are few choices beyond the fast-food, kids increasingly can eat well, and healthy, wherever they are:

• At the Hilton Orlando, Executive Chef Louis Martorano takes great pains to use locally sourced food for the adult as well as the kids menus.

• At Emeril's TChoup Chop at Universal Orlando's Royal Pacific Hotel, the kids menu included braised short ribs, and at Loews Portofino Bay Mama Della's, the 8-year-old we were with chowed down on fettuccine alfredo.

• At Disney World's new Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, the kids menu features Mickey Check Meals that are lower in fat -- grilled fish with whole grain rice pilaf, turkey meatloaf -- shaped like mouse ears, of course, with broccoli and orange dipping sauce.

Take a look at the new food offerings in Disney's New Fantasyland, including Be Our Guest.

• Order a kid's meal at any Disney park and you get apples instead of fries (unless you ask for fries) and low-fat milk rather than sugary soda. Now Disney is enhancing such efforts by further reducing sodium in kids' meals and introducing new well-balanced kids' breakfast meals.

• The Chefee's delectable at Wolfgang Puck Grand Café in Downtown Disney includes a California roll, grilled chicken and spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce with Freezin' Fruit for dessert.

"Not only do kids have higher expectations for their food, but families are more sophisticated travelers these days," says Edan Ballantine, director of food and beverage at the Grand New York Hyatt, which welcomes families from around the world to its midtown location.

And for American Girl fans, the hotel has just initiated The American Girl Package including American Girl Bed, gift card for American Girl Place, milk and cookies for your daughter and her doll and discounted breakfast. Package rates start at $250, per room, per night.

He noted that more families now pay a premium for access to the Grand Club Lounge where they help themselves to breakfast, everything from smoked salmon and bagels to cereal and egg dishes and afternoon snacks. The club has just been renovated and expanded with an outdoor deck overlooking the heart of Midtown Manhattan because it is so popular.

The day I was there for breakfast, there were plenty of kids who made themselves completely at home amid the business crowd. They were in evidence in late afternoon too, when complimentary snacks, enough for dinner for some kids, are served. The same was true at the club lounges at the Grand Cypress, where there is a separate alcove where kids can watch cartoons and at the Loews Portofino Bay.

The important thing, Hyatt's Ballantine said, is to give families more opportunities to eat healthier without sacrificing taste. That might mean turkey meatballs with the pasta or crunchy baked "chicken pops" rather than fried chicken fingers.

I hope other hotels, large and small, are paying attention.

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