At Silver Diner, it's the kids who've decided how to live and eat well.
The 15-unit family-dining chain, an inaugural member of the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWellSM initiative, held its first "Tastes Good, Good for You" contest March 20, in which two groups of children, aged 4 to 7 years and 8 to 10 years, respectively, tested new items to be featured on its revamped kids' menu.
The test items, created within the Kids LiveWell program's parameters for more healthful dining options, ranged from teriyaki salmon to multigrain macaroni and cheese, buttermilk pancakes with an egg and strawberries to locally-sourced bison sliders. All, said Bob Giaimo, Silver Diner's co-founder, were a big hit with the pint-sized judges and, he noted, some of their choices featured surprising results.
"In this tasting, we had two kinds of mac and cheese; one was made with whole-wheat pasta and the other with regular," he said. "The kids chose the whole wheat version with vegetables. I was definitely surprised - amazed, really. These kids are so sophisticated; ... you've got to give them what they like."
The winning items were created by Silver Diner co-founder and executive chef Ype von Hengst and voted on by the two kids' teams. They will be on the menu at Silver Diner restaurants starting April 24.
The chain, which trades in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, is one of 19 restaurant companies that joined Kids LiveWell when it debuted last July. The program, whose membership has since quadrupled, was created in partnership with San Diego-based nutrition consultancy Healthy Dining, to promote foods that meet qualifying criteria based on leading health organizations' scientific recommendations. Consumers can identify those healthful menu items by visiting the healthydiningfinder.com website.
"This [tasting] is a big thing," said Anita Jones-Mueller, Healthy Dining's founder and president. "Gathering kids to participate in this process is a really great idea. It's a good way of getting kids and their parents here [to Silver Diner]. You know the kids will want to come back and try the items they chose, and they'll tell their friends about it, too. It's one more way to get kids involved in nutrition."
According to Silver Dollar's Giaimo, the kids' menu consists of 18 entrees; nine of them are designated as heart healthy or certified for the Kids LiveWell program. He added that the chain is removing French fries, sweet potato fries, home fries and fountain drinks from the new kids' menu when it rolls out next month.
Giaimo said he's convinced the inclusion of healthful items for both adults and kids has helped increase sales chainwide.
"Our sales have gone up 22 percent because of these items," he said. "We think healthy eating options for adults and kids alike are a key driver of that."
Pictured top, right: Silver Diner executive chef Ype von Hengst, left, with co-founder Bob Giaimo, one of the contest's judges and her mother