Whenever I’m dining in a restaurant with my toddler son, there’s always a moment when I get nervous about looking at the children’s menu. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve seen the usual meals listed… chicken nuggets and fries… hamburger and fries… macaroni and cheese… etc. Really? Is this how many restaurants assume most kids eat these days? So instead of ordering from the kids menu, I tend to order a side of vegetables and I order an entree that includes a lean protein which I share with my son. I’ve grown accustomed to dining out that way just so that I can provide a more balanced and nutritious meal out for him. That is, until now.
A little over a week ago, the National Restaurant Association Show was held here in Chicago, as it does annually. This year was even more exciting because a new program focused on healthier dining options for children was being showcased. I was asked to participate and attend a presentation on the program to learn more… and I’m so glad I did. As a mom who’s concerned with my child’s nutrition, this is such a wonderful program and I’m sure other parents can appreciate this!
The National Restaurant Association launched the Kids LiveWell program in collaboration with Healthy Dining to help parents and children select healthful menu options when dining out. Restaurants that participate in the voluntary program commit to offering healthful meal items for children, with a particular focus on increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.
The Kids LiveWell program benefits both restaurateurs and guests. Participating restaurants get third-party verification and promotional materials for qualified meals and individual menu items. Parents and caretakers get accurate information to help them make informed decisions about their child’s meal.
I was happy to see that so many national restaurants are on board with providing more nutritionally balanced meals to children. Some restaurants participating include 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. So not only is there a good list of places that are kid friendly to dine in, I can rest assured that they will have kid meal options very different to what I’ve seen at other restaurants. If you have a favorite place to dine with your family that you think might want to participate in the Kids LiveWell program, please encourage them to do so!
Restaurants that join Kids LiveWell agree to offer and promote a selection of items that meet qualifying nutrition criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians has worked with participating restaurants to identify and validate the menu choices that meet the Kids LiveWell criteria. Restaurants participating in the Kids LiveWell program:
- Offer at least one full children’s meal (an entrée, side and beverage) that is 600 calories or less; contains two or more servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; and limits sodium, fats and sugar (see next question for details on nutrition criteria);
- Offer at least one other individual item that has 200 calories or less, with limits on fats, sugars and sodium, and contains a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy (see next question for details on nutrition criteria);
- Display or make available upon request the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options; and
- Promote/identify the healthful menu options.
If you’re like me who enjoys dining out every now and then, I like looking at restaurant menus beforehand. Another great site to check out is HealthyDining. On this site, you can review restaurant menus that offer healthy dining options for both adults and children. Just provide the zipcode of wherever you’d like to dine and a listing of restaurants are reflected along with links to restaurant menus. Even better is their mobile app which is available for both iPhone and Android!
So if you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, or just want to know where to dine for healthful meal options for both yourself and children, please check out the above programs and links. I’m grateful for the National Restaurant Association to take the pledge in improving the quality of food in the industry, especially for kids. It’s one step in a more positive and healthy direction.