More than 15,000 restaurants plan to participate in the National Restaurant Association’s new program designed to offer parents and children a wider choice of healthful menu selections when they dine out.
Called “Kids LiveWell,” the initiative — which was unveiled Wednesday in Washington, D.C. — is a voluntary program that the NRA says underscores the foodservice industry’s determination to provide children with more healthful food choices.
The initiative’s introduction comes at a time that the restaurant industry is under increasing fire for marketing practices directed at children, including a swell of proposals banning toys in kids’ meals. Earlier this week, a government group called for restaurant operators and others to adopt voluntary kid marketing guidelines.
Nineteen chains have signed on to “Kids LiveWell” so far, the NRA said. They are Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Chevys, Chili’s, Corner Bakery Café, 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.
“’Kids LiveWell’ underscores that restaurants can be part of the solution to ensuring a healthier generation and providing consumer choice in dining,” said Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and chief executive.
Sweeney said the NRA expects the number of restaurants participating in the program to swell in the coming months.
“When the NRA approached us with a desire to highlight our better-for-you kids’ menu options, we jumped at the chance to help educate consumers about the variety of choices on our menu,” said Stacey Sullivan, public relations director for Chili’s.
“As a restaurant company, we know the importance of all food groups for a well-balanced meal: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy,” Sullivan continued. “And we do our part by offering choices on our kids’ menu to meet these requirements.”
Restaurants that want to sign on to the program are expected to offer and promote a variety of menu selections that meet criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines, the NRA said.
To participate, restaurants must agree to:
• Offer a children’s meal containing an entrée, side dish 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 containing 200 calories or less, with limits on fats, sugars and sodium, plus contain a serving of fruit, vegetables, who grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy.
• Display or make available on request the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options.
• Promote or identify the healthful menu selections.
Sullivan said Chili’s, as part of the program, would be featuring such selections as a grilled chicken sandwich with mandarin oranges, and a grilled chicken platter with fresh steamed broccoli. Additional side items that can be substituted include fresh-cut pineapple, celery with nonfat ranch dressing, fresh corn on the cob, and corn kernels.
Healthy Dining, a nutrition-related marketing and consulting firm that is collaborating with the NRA in the “Kids LiveWell” initiative, worked with restaurants participating in the program to help identify and confirm menu choices.
“’Kids LiveWell’ empowers parents to confidently make informed decisions about their children’s meals as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” said Anita Jones-Mueller, founder of Healthy Dining and a contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News.
Dr. Robert C. Post, deputy director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, called the program “a great start to help empower consumers — kids and parents especially — with more healthier choices at restaurants.
“This could provide a great push toward more healthier offerings at restaurants,” he said. “We hope this is a trend toward new items and voluntary reformulations in reducing food components and nutrients that pose health concerns.”
The “Kids LiveWell” initiative is being launched even as critics assail the restaurant industry for what they claim is its role in contributing to child obesity in this country.
The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children — a coalition representing such federal agencies as the FDA, USDA, Federal Trade Commission and the CDC — has proposed voluntary guidelines for the food, beverage and restaurant industries that sets nutritional standards for products marketed to children ages 2 through 17.
According to the proposal, companies could only market food to kids that makes a meaningful contribution to a more healthful diet.
Meanwhile, kids’ meals offered by quick-service chains also have come under fire. Two California counties already have passed legislation restricting the use of toys in kids’ meals and other jurisdictions are weighing similar measures.
Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected].