Nineteen restaurant chains, including Burger King, Denny’s, IHOP and Outback Steakhouse, have signed on to a National Restaurant Association initiative to offer children healthy menu items.
Called “Kids LiveWell,” the program promises to offer and promote a selection of foods based on recommendations from a number of nutrition studies, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines.
Participants promise to:
— Offer a children’s meal (an entr√©e, 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.
Not everyone is impressed by the voluntary effort.
“There’s less to the National Restaurant Association’s new program for children’s meals than meets the eye,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest said in a news release. “Most restaurants already offer one or two healthy choices — but they are present amidst a minefield of high-calorie, salty, high-fat options. 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.”
CSPI noted that its own 2008 study found that at the top 25 chain restaurants, 93 percent of the kids’ meals were too high in calories, 45 percent too high in saturated fat, and 86 percent too high in salt.
“Restaurants — especially McDonald’s, which is not part of the new initiative — should follow Burger King’s lead and not just shove fries and soft drinks into kids’ meals, but ask parents if they want a fruit or vegetable side dish and milk, juice, or water instead,” CSPI said.
More than 15,000 locations of national chain restaurants will be involved in the initial launch of the Kids LiveWell program. The full list of participating companies: 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.