As more quick-service chains add healthier options to their kids' meals, such as apple slices and milk, Chick-fil-A has gone a step further, introducing grilled chicken nuggets as a healthier entrée alternative.
The gluten-free grilled nuggets are made from a boneless, skinless breast of chicken tumbled in a salt and pepper spice blend. The four count is 80 calories and 1 gram of fat, while the six count contains 110 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.
"We're offering what we believe is the nation's first grilled entree," said Woody Faulk, vice president of brand strategy and design, Chick-fil-A.
The new grilled nuggets will be offered alongside the chain's classic, pressure-cooked chicken nuggets that Faulk said has served the company well and that customers love.
"But we're going to offer choice and this is a big deal. Most of our competition has put their attention on side items. We've been focused on the center of the plate," he said.
New sides and improved beverage line
Chick-fil-A is not neglecting its side items, however, with the changes, and has added Buddy Fruits Pure Blended Fruit To Go applesauce as a complement to the fruit cup option Chick-fil-A added to its menu in 2004.
Each squeezable apple cinnamon Buddy Fruits fruit pouch is gluten-free, all natural and contains 100 percent pure fruit. It is 60 calories, 0 grams of fat and equals one serving of fruit.
Additionally, Chick-fil-A's children's beverage line now only features 1-percent milk, 100-percent apple juice, its signature freshly squeezed lemonade and water as drink choices.
"We're eliminating sugar drinks as a choice for a kid's meal," Faulk said.
A Chick-fil-A kid's meal with grilled nuggets, fruit cup and 1-percent milk has 210 calories and 3 grams of fat, reflecting an 86 percent cut in fat grams and a 56 percent reduction in calories compared to the chain's previous offerings.
"The reality is that we live in an on-the-go world where parents have limited healthy meal options for their kids on the way to and from recreational activities, school or other events," Faulk said. "Our new kid's meal reflects our commitment to helping parents strike a balance between nutrition, convenience and price. We want parents to know that they do have a choice at Chick-fil-A. It's just the right thing to do."
An alternative to toys
Also, as part of Chick-fil-A's "Growing Kid's Inside and Out " program, kid's meals feature tools that encourage interaction between children and their families, instead of toys. Examples include Little Gold Books, VeggieTales CDs, Discovery Kid's activities and books adapted from the Martha Speaks PBS series.
Part of a broader strategy
Chick-fil-A's dietitian Jodie Worrell said these new menu additions are part of the chain's broader initiative to offer healthier menu options to customers.
Initiative highlights include the addition of the fruit cup in 2004 and moving to a complete menu (including all condiments) with zero trans fats in 2008. Chick-fil-A also is actively working to reduce sodium across its menu, including a 40 percent sodium reduction in its Chargrilled Chicken filet, 25 percent less sodium in breads and removing 10 percent of sodium in dressings and sauces.
"While we are excited about the moves we have made on the kid's meal menu, we also are extremely proud of the progress we have made with our overall menu," Worrell said. "Our work is not complete though. We are constantly looking for a better way to offer our customers healthier choices."
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Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.