Ron Shaich, the CEO and founder of Panera Bread, says that food chains in the United States do children a disservice by serving them greasy, fried food. Instead, Panera has launched a new kids menu that includes any main entrée item in a smaller portion size. The new menu will have no artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, or colors from artificial sources.
Kids will be able to pick from more than 250 healthy meal combinations without the gimmicks of offering toys and cartoon characters. Some of these menu options include grilled cheese and tomato soup, Caesar salad, macaroni and cheese, and turkey chili.
“As a parent, I’m proud that I could eat off the Panera kids menu and still enjoy delicious and wholesome meals,” Shaich says. “I’m challenging the CEOs of some of the largest companies in the industry 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.”
In August 2016, Panera issued its Kids Meal Promise to both express the company’s long-held commitment to healthier kids meals and to challenge the rest of the industry’s standards. The Kids Meal Promise has five tenets. The first tenet is “clean,” meaning all menu options won’t contain artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, or colors. The other tenets are “no marketing gimmicks, real options, nutritiously paired, and no sugar-laden drinks as part of a meal.”
“Kids can surprise you when they have positive options to choose from,” Sara Burnett, Panera Bread’s Director of Wellness and Food Policy, says, reflecting their tenet of nutritiously paired. “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.”
Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says, “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 lure of giveaways and gimmicks, they’re more likely to develop a healthy relationship with food.”