- (Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)
For many parents, raising children who are conscious about choosing healthy food is a lifelong mission. To speed this process up, popular taco, burger, and barbecue restaurants across the nation will start serving up some healthier menu items today that are sure to please even the pickiest youngsters.
Health conscious foodies should be pleased to see about 1,500 restaurants, including 19 popular food chains, offer healthier entrees and appetizers with lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians and the National Restaurant Association kicked off the “Kids LiveWell” initiative nationwide on Wednesday.
The Kids LiveWell website officially launched Tuesday night and includes zip code locators, nutritional criteria, articles written by dietitians, restaurant guides and testimonials.
A new phone app will be launched in the coming days to help those on the road, organizers said.
IHOP, Chili’s, Outback, McDonald’s, Captain D’s, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s and hundreds more restaurants have joined the campaign.
Margo Wootan, spokesperson for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said offering healthier kids’ meals at restaurants is important because children are getting about a third of their calories from eating out, and eating out is a big contributor to obesity.
“Kids’ meals have become synonymous with junk,” she said.
“They are usually a hamburger, a slice of pizza or fried chicken tenders with a side of french fries and a soda.”
The new initiative, which has never been attempted on this scale before now, will continue adding new restaurant choices every week.
Many meals that fit into the program will carry an icon of a red apple on the menu.
Organizers said the menu items must meet strict nutritional guidelines and include an entree, side dish and beverage and contain 600 calories or less, plus meet other nutritional criteria.
"We've seen positive trends in the last few years and consumers are more interested in healthful options. Two-thirds of quick-service chains are offering more healthful choices for kids than they did two years ago," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association.
"We want to seize upon that momentum. It says a lot about our industry that restaurants are stepping up to the plate."
Unfortunately, a common activity in today's society for many kids is watching television and playing video games for hours while consuming fast food and soft drinks.
A recent report published by the Trust for America's Health said "… obesity rates among the current generation of young people are unacceptably high and a very serious problem. To reverse this national epidemic, we have to make every community a healthy community."
Overall, various reports suggest that more than 30 percent of the nation's children are overweight.
Medical professionals agree that two primary factors are to blame for the rise in childhood obesity. First, most kids, including teens, don't get enough exercise, and secondly, healthy diets are not the norm for many children.
Take the television set out of kids' bedrooms. Teach them to eat only when they're hungry. Don't restrict playtime as a punishment, researchers with the Institute of Medicine said.
"Kids can eat french fries, hamburgers and fried foods some of the time when they are eating out, but not all the time,” said Anita Jones-Mueller, founder of Healthy Dining, in a statement.
"Some restaurants have only a couple of kids' meals that meet the criteria now, but they are working on developing more."
Resources for the new “Kids LiveWell” campaign:
Here is a list of some of the restaurants joining the new initiative:
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.
Here are some examples of some of the nutritional menu item changes:
- Burger King's breakfast muffin sandwich with fresh apple fries (slices) and fat-free milk.
- Corner Bakery Cafe's half turkey sandwich served on harvest bread, with a side of baby carrots, fruit medley and low-fat milk.
- Cracker Barrel's kids' chicken n' dumplings with organic apple juice.
Find Kids LiveWell meals on the Web: healthydiningfinder.com
(Participating restaurants can add the "Kids LiveWell" icon on their menus to indicate qualifying items, as well.)
To learn more about "Kids LiveWell," visit: http://www.restaurant.org/foodhealthyliving/kidslivewell/index.cfm
Tips for Healthy Eating When Dining Out:
1. Eating out has become an integral part of the American lifestyle. And though it’s trickier to follow a healthful diet while dashing between business lunches and social dinners, it is possible, armed with motivation and information.
2. Before ordering, ask your food server exactly how the dish is prepared and what ingredients are used. Even terms like “broiled,” “grilled” or “steamed” don’t guarantee a low-fat preparation. A dish may be steamed with added butter.
3. Find out from your food server what else comes with your meal. If it’s served with fries or garlic mashed potatoes (usually made with generous amounts of butter), request a substitute. Recommended options include steamed brown rice or a plain baked potato, to which you might add a small amount of a high-fat topping – like butter, margarine or sour cream.
4. Choose dishes flavored with herbs and spices rather than rich sauces, gravies or dressings. Or order such toppings on the side and use them sparingly.
5. Be inventive! Look over the entire menu and put together a meal composed of several appetizers, side dishes, soups and/or salads.
Beware of portion sizes. Options include sharing an entrée with your dining companion (you can still order two salads and selected side dishes) or taking a portion of your meal home.
6. At buffets: survey all the selections before filling your plate. Make conscious and informed choices about the items you’re selecting. Don’t arrive at a restaurant over-hungry… you’ll be more susceptible to high-fat, high-calorie breads/spreads and appetizers that you might otherwise resist.