As diners become more sophisticated in their tastes and desire for flavorful, healthful foods, quick-service and fast casual operators are plating up additional items that satisfy those demands, National Restaurant Association research finds.

Consumers questioned for the NRA's 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast ranked their top 10 food trends for the year, with several geared toward children's meals. The trends, in order, are:

  1. Healthful kids' meals
  2. Fruits and vegetable sides in kids' meals
  3. Gluten-free items
  4. Lowfat or nonfat milk and 100-percent orange juice options in kids' meals
  5. Locally sourced produced
  6. Lower-sodium items
  7. Spicy items
  8. Lower-calorie options
  9. Mini-desserts or dessert bites
  10. Low-fat foods

According to Joy Dubost, PhD., R.D., the NRA's director of nutrition and healthy living, consumers today are much more attuned to making more healthful choices and know that childhood obesity is an issue in the United States.

"There has been increasing awareness around childhood obesity and ensuring that future generations remain healthy," Dubost said. "Additionally, it's become a family affair for adults who also are looking for healthful options that meet their dietary needs. As a result, the demand for those options has grown."

Restaurant operator- and industry-focus has shifted to children's menus in recent years. In 2011, the NRA partnered with HealthyDining to launch its Kids LiveWell program. (Read also, What's on your kids' menu.)

Despite this increased interest in healthful items, however, the Forecast reported that consumers still have their perennial favorites on limited-service menus. Those items include soft drinks, French fries, iced tea and beef items.

Read more about restaurant trends and statistics.

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