Sweets for the Smallest Guests

February 16, 2012 No Comments

Trends in Dessert Options at Children’s Museums

When parents plan a family outing at a children’s museum, they are thinking about more than just the fun adventures that await their kids. They are also thinking about food; what can they feed their children while they are out and what will their options be?  With the world becoming more and more health-conscious, institutions such as children’s museums are making sure to carry healthier dessert choices, while still carrying old favorites.
Those visiting the Glazer Children’s Museum, in Tampa, Fla., may dine at the Tiny Bites Cafe.  Most patrons sit down and get a full meal at the cafe, choosing from salads, personal pizzas, made-to-order sandwiches and, of course, there are several dessert options, as well.  Shannon Dinkins, chef and manager of the cafe, has designed the menu on a concept that mainly offers healthy snacks.  “Chocolate chip cookies are our top-selling dessert item, however, we have a low-fat caramel and fresh berry parfait that is a close second,” Dinkins said.
Desserts at Tiny Bites Cafe are not made in-house.  When choosing an appropriate dessert, Dinkins looks for items that are flavorful, with the least amount of ingredients or additives.  “We are currently looking for a few signature menu items for the upcoming year,” said Dinkins.  “I have been working on an idea for a multi-color cake and this one would be made in-house.”
The Glazer Children’s museum is in its first year of operation and entertains visitors from all over the United States, however, they mostly serve families and school groups from the greater Tampa Bay area.
At the Children’s Museum of Houston in Texas, visitors can choose between healthy and non-healthy dessert options.  For every healthy eater, there’s another with a sweet tooth.  “We offer a variety of choices to satisfy their sweet tooth, such as cookies and brownies versus fat-free frozen yogurt and fruit salad,” said Connie Schnupp, director of retail operations.  “The brownies, parfaits and fresh fruit salad are made in-house,” Schnupp said.  “We use the freshest fruit we can find and low-fat or fat-free yogurt.”
Not everyone visiting the museum sits down to enjoy a full meal, so snack options are a must.  “First-time visitors generally eat a full meal, because they spend the whole day at the museum, but repeat visitors just opt to see their exhibit favorites, they come only for a few hours, and settle for on-the-go drinks and snacks,” Schnupp said.
The Children’s Museum of Houston entertains and educates children from birth to 12.  An average of 850,000 guests visit annually.
Located in Norwalk, Conn., The Stepping Stones Museum for Children attracts an average of 250,000 visitors each year. Serving all of Connecticut and New York, the museum is geared towards entertaining children up to age 10.  When guests of the museum get hungry, there is an array of dining options at the Bulls Head Market Cafe.
“The emphasis seems to be on getting a quick bite, since we are a museum,” said Judi Abbott, catering manager for Bulls Head Market Cafe.  “So, while guests have the option of choosing a salad, pizza or sandwich, often the preference is for a beverage and a dessert.”  The cafe carries traditional desserts, such as cookies, packaged ice creams, frozen yogurt, as well as allergen-free cupcakes and gluten-free cookies.  In keeping with the museum’s focus on health-awareness, the cafe also carries fresh fruit slices, mixed fruit cups and grapes.  While the cookies are baked on the premises, most desserts are brought in from outside vendors.
The average guest stay at The Please Touch Museum, in Philadelphia, Pa., is four hours.  “Since families are here with young children, they often stop in for a full meal and then come back a second time, at the end of their visit, for a dessert,” said Scott Swiger, general manager of Brulee-Catering, the company that provides the food to the Please Touch Museum.  When choosing a dessert, visitors to the cafe tend to prefer traditional items, but, according to Swiger, healthier options are available, such as fresh fruit, fruit and yogurt parfaits, frozen fruit bars, low-fat ice cream sandwiches and fruit smoothies.
“Most of our desserts are brought in from outside vendors, however we do make assorted parfaits.  Our chef also makes special desserts in-house during busier days,” said Swiger.  Some examples of those recent specials are rice pudding, tres leches, banana bread pudding and cheesecake.  “We will continue testing new specials, including smaller portion items that are appropriate for children and/or parents looking for lower calorie indulgences,” Swiger remarked.  Due to allergy concerns, nuts are not used in any products that are made in-house.
The Please Touch Museum was designed for children seven and under, but welcomes grown-ups and families with young children from all over the country.  In 2011, the museum welcomed over a half million visitors.
At The Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, N.Y., hungry guests can find an array of meal options in the spacious food court.  “Museum visitors generally purchase an entree and beverage,” said Kathie Dengler, senior vice president for guest and institutional services at The Strong.  However, there are plenty of desserts available, such as cookies, yogurt parfaits, apple slices, fruit crisps and frozen yogurt.
“The cookies and yogurt parfaits are made in-house,” Dengler explained.  “However, the ice cream and frozen yogurt are provided through a local vendor, Perry’s.”  There are no plans to make changes to the dessert menu for 2012.  Serving 580,000 guests a year, the museum’s primary audience is families with young children.
In 2008, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum in New York, was renovated and reopened with a full cafeteria.  This addition to the museum created the opportunity for guests to partake in a full, sit-down lunch, including cold and hot sandwich options, macaroni and cheese, ziti, chicken fingers and pizza, as well as meal combos that include chips and a drink.  There are a multitude of dessert choices, as well.  Health-conscious patrons that desire a sweet snack can choose from yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit, raisins or animal crackers.  Those who fancy a more traditional dessert may select from cookies, danishes, pudding, muffins or ice cream.
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, brings in all desserts from outside vendors.  If there are items that contain peanuts, it is addressed on the package and kosher items are also available for those who may need that option.  The museum caters to individuals and families of all races, ages and income levels.  Most visitors come from local schools and community centers, as well as from New Jersey, Staten Island and Queens. -

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