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Restaurants Adopt Healthier Kid Food

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The standard American kids’ menu in a restaurant is usually filled with junk foods like French fries and chicken nuggets. But a new voluntary initiative launched by the National Restaurant Association is working to add healthier options to kids’ menus.

The program, called “Kids LiveWell,” will go live in national chains across the country including Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, IHOP and others.

“Eating well—especially when eating out—is the road much less traveled in America today, by children and adults alike,” said Dr. David L. Katz, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center and Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity.

The restaurants joining the campaign agree to offer and promote menu items that meet qualifying criteria based on 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines and recommendations of registered dietitians. This shift includes serving a children’s meal with 600 calories or less and two servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy.

“This could provide a great push toward healthier offerings at restaurants; we hope this is a trend toward new items and voluntary reformulations in reducing food components and nutrients that pose health concerns,” said Dr. Robert C. Post, Deputy Director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP).

Many nutrition advocates are excited for the new campaign and have said this new initiative is a great step in equipping families to make healthful choices when they dine out.

“Today, nearly a third of America’s children are overweight or obese, and that means each of us needs to do our part to help reverse this epidemic,” said Stephanie Silverman, senior advisor to the Campaign to End Obesity. “Having more nutritious options and clearer nutritional information about the foods we eat is one key to the kind of change that’s needed to enable Americans to eat more healthfully, and to support the nation’s journey to a healthy weight.”

But other health advocates say the voluntary initiative falls short.

“Most restaurants already offer one or two healthy choices—but they are present amidst a minefield of high-calorie, salty, high-fat options,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Policy Director Margo G. Wootan in a statement. “The great majority of choices on children’s menus should be healthy, given that kids are getting one-third of their calories outside the home, and eating out is linked to obesity.”

Wootan also criticized chains like McDonald’s that are not joining the initiative.

“Our study of McDonald’s found that even though it shows healthier options in its advertising, it usually sticks fries in the box without even asking parents what they want,” Wootan said.

Parents can find “Kids LiveWell” options in their communities by visiting the “Kids LiveWell” section on www.HealthyDiningFinder.com

Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.

National Restaurant Association
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Reviewed July 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle

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