'Kids Live Well' Healthful Menu Options a Welcome Tool

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Published July 13, 2011

| FoxNews.com

On Wednesday, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) is announcing the launch a nationwide initiative to identify healthier choices on menus for children. As a mom, this is a welcomed tool in helping my children make better selections when we go out to eat. 

According to Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, “Kids Live Well "underscores that restaurants can be part of the solution to ensuring a healthier generation and providing consumer choice in dining options.”

This is a collaborative effort among NRA members — and it is voluntary. The inaugural chains to participate in this first-of-its kind program are: Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carabba’s Italian Grill, Chevy’s, Chili’s, Corner Bakery Café, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, El Pollo Loco, Friendly’s, IHOP, Joes’ Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery, and Zpizza. 

In order for menu items to have the approved logo, the menu items must clear the approval of the Healthydiningfinder.com.

Nutrient Requirements for the Kids Live Well program

The criteria for “meal” inclusion include:

• 600 calories or less
• < 35 percent of calories from total fat
• < 10 percent of calories from saturated fat
• < 0.5 grams of trans fat (artificial trans fat only)
• < 35 percent of calories from total sugar
• < 770 mg of sodium
• Each meal must contain two sources of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low fat dairy.

Individual and side items must meet the following benchmarks:

• 200 calories or less
• < 35% of calories from total fat
• < 10% of calories from saturated fat
• < 0.5 grams of trans fat (artificial trans fat only)
• < 35% of calories from total sugar
• < 250 mg of sodium

Healthy Menu Designations

Since 1993, Chili’s restaurants have visually labeled foods which are low in fat and calories, but high in fiber, under the "Guiltless Grill" designation. 

Joe Taylor, vice president of corporate affairs for Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s, said that there has been a “growing awareness” for nutrition information and they want to “empower the guest with more nutrition information”. 

Many dine out for indulgent celebrations and for others for convenience, but now there are no excuses for lack of options. At Chili’s, the menu items for the Kids Live Well program include the grilled chicken sandwich or grilled chicken platter with a choice of corn kernels, carrots and celery sticks with non-fat ranch dressing, broccoli, mandarin oranges or fresh cut pineapple.

Have it Your Way

Consumers do not realize that many restaurants will accommodate customization to dishes. Are you hearing Meg Ryan embarrass Billy Crystal at Katz’s Delicatessen in your head? Burger King made the slogan, “have it your way” famous (at least when I was a kid). Even Burger King is part of this club of restaurants trying to provide healthier options. 

Craig Prusher, vice president of government affairs for Burger King shared their Kids Live Well menu selections which include: BK Kids Muffin Sandwich, four-piece chicken tenders or Hamburger. 

Here is the good part, all items are offered with apple fries (no, they are not fried, but are cut like French fries and presented in a box), apple juice or fat-free milk. I was really excited when Craig shared some other little known information. The new default question for a parent ordering a children’s meal is not “do you want French fries and a soft drink” BUT “would you like apple or French fries, apple juice, fat-free milk or a soft drink?” So much better than, “would you like to super size that?”

Hold that Shaker of Salt

Many restaurants and food manufacturers have been working hard to reformulate your favorite dishes with less sodium… while preserving taste. At Burger King, the sodium content of their chicken tenders are now reduced by one third, the Tender Grill chicken patty is down 25 percent and their ham has 40 percent less sodium. Even companies like Campbell’s, Unilever and Frito Lay are putting less salt in your food – and not even drawing attention to it on the label.

This program is great for families and I am hopeful that similar menu labeling is right around the corner for the big kids and parents. I find it hard to grapple the notion that most people really have difficulty making better choices in a restaurant. We can’t all eat at home – especially when on the road. The timing is perfect for summer family vacations. Now you can feel better about ordering an ice cream – but I always ask for the kiddie cup!

Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM is a doctorally trained registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, TV personality and expert consultant in disease prevention, wellness and healthy living. She is the author of "Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great." She hosted TLC's groundbreaking series "Honey We're Killing the Kids!" Become a fan of Felicia on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or visit her website FeliciaStoler.com

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