First lady Michelle Obama called on restaurateurs to help put an end to childhood obesity in an address made Monday to the National Restaurant Association’s board of directors at their fall meeting in Washington, D.C.
Thanking those in the foodservice industry who already have made an effort to address the problem, Obama urged restaurateurs to go even further.
“The reality is, it’s just not enough,” she said. “Together we have to do more. We have to go further. And we need your help to lead the effort.”
NRA president and chief executive Dawn Sweeney also addressed the gathering, emphasizing that consumers are demanding more healthful options.
“The restaurant industry is responding to consumer preferences by providing options for their tastes and dietary needs," Sweeney said. "Offering more menu choices, cooking with healthier ingredients, and providing nutrition information for guests are just a few of the ways restaurants are answering consumers’ interest in more healthful food options.”
Noting that one-third of all meals today are eaten in restaurants, the first lady urged operators to use their creativity to reduce the number of empty calories Americans consume. And while “we are programmed to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods,” she added, “with a little persistence and creativity, we can also turn them on to higher quality, healthier foods.”
Obama also recommended that restaurateurs offer more healthful menu options for children, adding, “most kids’ menus look pretty much the same.” She cited one survey that found that “90 percent of [children’s] menus includes mac and cheese,” while 80 percent includes chicken fingers and 60 percent includes burgers or cheeseburgers.
“Some options weigh in at over 1,000 calories, and that’s close to the recommended amount that a child should have for the entire day,” she said.
“That’s why I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options and then provide them up front so that parents don’t have to hunt around and read the small print to find an appropriately sized portion that doesn’t contain high levels of fat, salt and sugar.”
The first lady told operators she was not “asking any of you to make drastic changes to every single one of your recipes or to totally change the way you do business. But what I am asking is that you consider reformulating your menu in pragmatic and incremental ways to create healthier versions of the foods that we all love.”
She said that could mean substituting wheat pasta for white pasta, taking an existing dish and cutting the amount of butter or cream, or using 1 percent or skim milk.
“Or you could make healthy sides like apple slices or carrots the default choice in a menu and make fries something customers have to request — which would hurt me deeply. I’m a fry lover,” she said, drawing a laugh from the audience.
While telling operators that “as a mom, I know it is my responsibility and no one else’s to raise my kids,” she said foodservice marketing practices make it challenging to alter children’s eating habits.
“We have to ask ourselves, what does it mean when so many parents are finding their best efforts undermined by an avalanche of advertisements aimed at our kids,” she said.
She cited a study that found only a small portion of advertising targeting children promoted healthy foods, while most promoted foods with a low nutritional value. “And let’s be clear: It’s not enough just to limit ads for foods that aren’t healthy," she said. "It’s also going to be critical to increase marketing for foods that are healthy.”
Obama also thanked the NRA for supporting menu labeling in restaurants, and encouraged restaurants that do not provide calorie counts to join in.
“So I hope that all of you will join with us in these efforts,” she said. “Together, we can help make sure that every family that walks into a restaurant can make an easy, healthy choice.”
Contact Paul Frumkin [email protected].