Here on TLT I’ve long decried the offerings on most children’s menus — an unimaginative array of salty, fried and fatty foods that seems to be the same at every restaurant, no matter what part of the country you’re in. That’s why I was thrilled last fall when First Lady Michelle Obama scolded the National Restaurant Association for the poor children’s menu options at its member restaurants.
Well, it sounds like the restaurant industry was actually listening.
Later this morning the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining will announce a new “Kids LiveWell,” initiative to improve the offerings on children’s menus at over 15,000 restaurant locations around the country. The first participants in the program include Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Chevys Fresh Mex, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Corner Bakery Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, El Pollo Loco, Friendly’s, IHOP, Joe’s Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery and zpizza.
According to their press release, the voluntary program will require participating restaurants to:
- Offer a children’s meal (an entree, side and beverage) with 600 calories or less; two servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; with limits on sodium, fats and sugar;
- Offer at least one other individual item with 200 calories or less, with limits on fats, sugars and sodium, plus contain a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy;
- Display or make available upon request the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options; and
- Promote/identify the healthful menu options.
USA Today gives further detail on the nutritional requirements. Qualifying meals must have:
— 600 calories or less
And less than:
— 35% calories from fat
— 10% calories from saturated fat
— 0.5 grams trans fat
— 35% of calories from sugar
— 770 milligrams sodium
Examples of qualifying kids meals include Corner Bakery Cafe’s half turkey sandwich served on harvest bread, with a side of baby carrots, fruit medley and low-fat milk, and Burger King’s breakfast muffin sandwich with fresh apple fries (slices) and fat-free milk.
Given that one-third of American children eat fast food every day (!), any plan to improve the offerings at those restaurants has to be met with initial praise, and experts and advocates such as Dr. David L. Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, and Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have expressed support for the program.
But since the usual burgers, fries and pizza will still be offered to kids at these restaurants, it remains to be seen how well the healthier options are promoted; a turkey sandwich buried on a menu that highlights junk food is little more than a cynical PR move. It also remains to be seen how enthusiastically parents (and kids) accept the new items. I’ll share any follow-up reports here.
Meanwhile, to find a “Kids LiveWell” options in your own area, you can visit the “Kids LiveWell” section on www.HealthyDiningFinder.com.
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