Why your kid’s inflight meal might be tastier than yours

CNN  — 

Ever been on a flight and noticed that the kid sitting in the aisle next to you was given something that looked more appetizing than the dinner tray laid down in front of you?

Chances are, it probably tasted better too.

As any parent knows, a hungry kid is not a happy one.

And nobody wants to see a hangry child have a meltdown 30,000 feet in the air.

No surprise then that the research and development of inflight products for children is big business – and that includes food.

Buzz, an Australian-based inflight children’s product company, has worked with Qatar Airways, Korean Air, Jetstar and Emirates to create fun, memorable inflight children’s activities, amenities and meal service products.

The company develops concepts, conducts research, tests products and arranges focus groups to validate findings, but also to satisfy airlines.

“The entertainment of children is of key importance to all passengers on every flight,” says Alison Davies, group account director of Buzz.

“We have developed innovative and inspiring inflight products to provide maximum support to parents along their journey.”

While it’s easy enough to toss the kids a goodie bag filled with games, food is another story – particularly where nutrition is concerned.

“Some airlines are quite conscious about what they put in the meals and try to avoid too many sugary snacks,” Davies says.

“But some need a good lesson in healthy eating.”

No more processed nuggets

When it comes to nutrition, LATAM is among the airlines doing it right.

The South American carrier has said goodbye to processed chicken nuggets, replacing them homemade breaded chicken.

Chicken or fish? Bleh. Lufthansa's inflight menu may include Butterfly Dream (gnocchetti pasta salad with shrimp) or Potato Sunset (wedges with tomato sauce).

Last year, the airline served more than 30,000 kids’ meals that were “free of excess fat and high calories,” says LATAM’s executive chef Hugo Pantano.

“We want children to receive a meal that is both attractive to them, while still being healthy,” he says.

Meanwhile, for Lufthansa it’s all about colors.

Their latest kids’ meal creations are by German star chef Sybille Schoenberger, an enthusiastic amateur painter who loves color – both on canvas and on the inflight meal tray.

Forget chicken or fish: today’s inflight menu may include Butterfly Dream (gnocchetti pasta salad with shrimp), Potato Sunset (wedges with tomato sauce) or Flying Dumplings (white bread and cheese dumplings on mushroom ragout).

“Each of our star chefs must have previous experience with cooking for kids,” says Martin Riecken, director of corporate communications for Lufthansa in Europe.

“After the menus have been designed by the star chef, a jury of children from different countries decides which children’s menus will be served on board Lufthansa flights.”

Playful packaging and organic snacks

Kids flying Air France can play with their food thanks to Catalan designer Eugeni Quitllet, who created a spoon, fork and knife that can be transformed into a small aircraft.

On flights longer than 150 minutes, the airline offers organic baby food in jars, while kids’ meals on flights from Paris include three items that are organic – usually orange juice, compote and a chocolate bar.

Not flying from Paris?

The airline will still offer at least one organic snack for children.

Kids aged 2-8 will automatically be ordered a kids’ meal during the flight booking process, but as with any special meal request, it’s always good to confirm with the airline before departure.

Organic snacks for children are even offered on low cost airline EasyJet.

The airline recently redesigned its kids’ inflight snack box.

By removing chips and chocolate bars, the airline achieved a 4% reduction in fat, 40% reduction in saturated fat and an increase of 20% in fiber.

The range of Organix Goodies (which promises to use all natural products) now used in the snack box satisfied the airline’s procurement team, who wanted to ensure tasty, healthy and nutritious products for their young fliers.

All snacks are packaged individually, so they can be eaten during the flight or later.

“But, Mom, I don’t like caviar!”

Though they’ll likely enjoy the extra room for their toys, chances are most kids sitting in first or business class won’t appreciate dishes such as lobster thermidor or caviar service.

On Singapore Airlines, first-class kids too good for caviar can order mac and cheese instead.

That’s why Singapore Airlines introduced its “Yummy” inflight meal service: a meal pre-order program available for children flying suites/first and business class.

Parents can select an inflight meal that will appeal to their child, with more than 15 kid-friendly options including mac and cheese, pancakes and sausages, and healthy options like poached eggs, grilled fish or roasted chicken.

Each month, up to 300 parents pre-order these meals for their children, but that monthly figure more than doubles to 800-plus during the peak school vacation period, says the airline.

Some hold the healthy food

KLM took a different approach to inflight kids’ meals by running a series of nine special test flights where parents and kids were surveyed to determine exactly what food and toys should be offered.

The airline serves more than 60,000 hungry young travelers each year, so it was important to get it right.

“We found that children do not like healthy food inflight,” explains Madeleine Braun, product manager for KLM Long Haul.

“Therefore, parents would rather have them eating anything at all (even unhealthy) instead of pushing them to eat something healthy they don’t like.”

Armed with that information, the airline set out to please young fliers with options such as hamburgers with fries and a typically Dutch breakfast of “poffertjes” baby pancakes.

KLM also found that kids love to copy adults, so they created a range of eye masks and baggage labels to include in kids’ inflight kits.

Hope your kid likes the color pink

Last, but certainly not least, is the happiest flight of them all: EVA Air’s Hello Kitty Jets.

The Kitty flight experience has more than 100 branded inflight Hello Kitty items, including headrest covers, blankets, pillows and inflight meals, of course.

Hello Kitty jet inflight cuisine is colorful, with kids’ meals served in Chef Hello Kitty boxes with bowtie-shaped bowls.

These items are available on select flights to/from Los Angeles, Houston, Paris, Singapore, Seoul, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Guam or Tokyo to Seoul (and vice versa).

Nik Loukas is the founder of airline food guide InFlightFeed.com.