Big Taste for Small Diners

The Hyatt Regency Austin recently became one of the first hotels to nationally launch a healthy children’s menu, in association with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), First Lady Michelle Obama’s antiobesity nonprofit. At a PHA conference last year, Hyatt approached legendary chef and writer Alice Waters, a pioneer of the organic food movement, and asked her to partner with them for a new program called For Kids By Kids; Waters’s practices seemed a perfect fit for Hyatt’s global philosophy of “Thoughtfully sourced. Carefully served.”

Eleven-year-old Haile Thomas, who’s been cooking since the age of five and has her own YouTube cooking show, Kids Can Cook, was also present at the conference as a member of the youth advisory board with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Hyatt approached her as well, to serve as a menu consultant and spokesperson for the new program. “My role was to give feedback on the menu items created by Hyatt chefs,” says Thomas. “I reviewed the initial menu and offered the kid perspective and suggestions for changes.”

The newly designed For Kids By Kids menu includes a seasonal three-course meal created exclusively by Waters, as well as other dishes tweaked and tested by Thomas and a group of her peers. Some of the recipes were specifically tailored to be interactive and fun for pint-size diners to prepare and eat, like the shake-your-own chopped salad, served in a shakable container full of vegetables, roasted chicken, brown rice and yogurt-basil dressing. Thomas says her inspiration came from knowing that she and many of her friends appreciate options other than the regular burgers, fries and pizzas on typical children’s menus, and they enjoy access to more sophisticated choices like all-natural beef and fresh vegetables.

“Our research taught us that kids like great-quality food as well, and enjoy being a part of the dining experience,” says Mark Bedford, food and beverage director of the Hyatt Regency Austin. As a parent of three boys, Bedford has witnessed limited kids’ menu offerings firsthand. “There are many great restaurants in Austin and I believe the kids’ menu is often an afterthought,” he says. “We have trained our kids to think that chicken nuggets and hot dogs are what they’re supposed to eat, and oftentimes it becomes the easy choice.” Other menu improvements include fruits and vegetables as default side items instead of fries or other carb-loaded sides and free refills of low-fat milk in lieu of the bottomless soda many places still offer.

Bedford says the menu has been surprisingly well-received by both children and their parents. “[The kids] enjoy the interaction the menu brings,” he notes, “and parents have been delighted that they’re able to give their children a healthy option for dinner.” As for Thomas, she hopes the menu inspires kids her age to step outside the box and get into the kitchen. “Cooking is not only fun, but also it helps to get you healthy,” she says. “It’s really the stepping-stone to healthy lifestyle choices because you will learn more about food by cooking it than by buying it from a fast-food window.”
—Veronica Meewes

Hyatt Regency Austin
208 Barton Springs Rd.