Chain Restaurants Will Make Kids Menus Healthier

WASHINGTON -- Parents seeking healthier restaurant meals for their kids can start to look beyond chicken nuggets and macaroni-and-cheese.

At least 19 large restaurant chains - including Burger King, Chili's, IHOP and Friendly's - plan to announce Wednesday that they will include healthier options on their children's menus. At least 15,000 restaurant locations will focus on increasing servings of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. The items will have less fats, sugars and sodium.

Less healthy foods like burgers and fries will still be on the menu, but the restaurants say they will do more to promote healthier options. Chili's, for example, will highlight a chicken sandwich with a side of pineapple or mandarin oranges on their kids' menu. Burger King has recently reformulated children's chicken nuggets so they include less sodium, and employees taking orders will ask if customers want healthier apple fries instead of the standard "fries with that?"

The effort is part of a new National Restaurant Association initiative to give kids more healthy options at restaurants and to make it easier for parents to find those options. Some of the items are already on menus, but restaurants will advertise them more prominently and flag the healthier menu items to make ordering easier.

To be part of the program, restaurants must include at least one kids' menu item that is 600 calories or less and meets other nutritional requirements. A side dish worth less than 200 calories must also be included.

"This could provide a great push toward healthier offerings at restaurants," said Robert Post, the Agriculture Department official in charge of developing the department's dietary guidelines, which came out earlier this year. Those urged Americans to eat less salt.

"We hope this is a trend toward new items and voluntary reformulations," Post said.

The companies signing up for the initiative are Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Chevys, Chili's, 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.

Joe Taylor of Chili's said the company has responded to consumer demands for healthier foods. While diners looking for a healthier meal used to have to ask for substitutions, they now have more options.

"We've seen our guests customize their meals to a greater degree when they are looking to hold the mayo or add the broccoli," Taylor said.

Patrick Lenow of IHOP said the restaurant will add two new children's menu items because of the effort, including pancakes with fruit and scrambled eggs with fruit. The company had already limited everything on their children's menu to under 600 calories and made fruit a default side, instead of fries - a change that has dramatically increased fruit consumption at the restaurants, Lenow said.

Several restaurant chains haven't committed yet to joining the effort. Maggiano's, owned with Chili's by Brinker International, is not part of the program. Neither is McDonald's, the world's largest burger chain.

Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said the group is hoping to add additional restaurants to the effort in coming months.

First lady Michelle Obama last year attended a National Restaurant Association meeting in Washington and pleaded with them to take a little butter or cream out of their dishes, use low-fat milk and provide apple slices or carrots as a default side dish on the kids' menu. She said Americans eat a third of their meals in restaurants, which have long been seen by many as the worst offenders in terms of nutrition.

Many restaurant companies are starting to reformulate menu items and add new healthier sections to their menus, however, as consumers have shown a heightened interest in nutrition.

The federal government will also soon require restaurants to post calories on their menus. FDA guidelines will require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, along with bakeries, grocery stores, convenience stores and coffee chains, to clearly post the calories.

John Dillon of Denny's said the company recently took photos of French fries off their menus.

"Where before we may have been concerned about not having French fries pictured on our menu, we're now finding that has actually helped our business," he said.


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  • by Jack on Jul 17, 2011 at 03:47 AM
    I know a family (military) that has 3 kids, mom doesn't work, doesn't keep a clean house, and the oldest is usually taking care of the younger 2, including feeding them with whatever is in the house. The oldest 2 are a little on the pudgy side and I know that it's not from eating home cooking.
  • by Stewart on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:52 PM
    The goverment needs to stay the hell out of my restuarants and also my kitchen. I will raise my kids my way so BUTT OUT.
  • by Anonymous on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:49 PM
    Telling people what they should eat is just wrong. Most people in the world know exactly what to do. Rather or not they follow it should be their business no one else, ESP the goverments. This makes me MAD!! Just so they know I will give my kids candy bars for Breakfast if I want to!!! (not that I would :)_)
  • by Hello Downsizing! on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:33 PM
    Make it healthier? Make it smaller. Smaller portions. It's the next obvious step. Means more money for the company. win/win...umm, right? No, wait a minute....
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:14 PM
    When I was a child we got to go to someplace like Burger King ONCE IN A MONTH, and sometimes not even that often. Fast food was not an expected privilege. It was an occasional treat to go out anywhere for food. We were never allowed to think we were the ones in charge of decisions about food or anything else because well.. we were uhm.. CHILDREN. If your child is harrassing you, then it's your own failure to create discipline in the home, not the industry offering toys or food. Nothing has changed that much. There were toys back then too. There have always been lures, offers, products, and more. As the parent, if you make and enforce a rule from day one (or at ANY point), then that's how it will be. I'm so fed up with hearing excuses about why someone's child is unruly or overweight, and people mad at the industries for presenting something appealing so they can sell their products. Unless your 8 year old is taking the keys and wallet, and driving themself to McDonald's, you have no one to blame but yourself. Even then I'd think you had something to do with the outcome.
    • reply
      by Bravo, Clap Clap Clap ! on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:31 PM in reply to Audra
      Well said.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:50 PM in reply to Audra
      I agree. I feel sorry for the parents who think because the meal comes with a toy the kids should have it 4 times a week or more. It's discusting.
  • by Anonymous Location: beulaville nc on Jul 13, 2011 at 12:30 PM
    i agree 100%
  • by Michelle Location: Washington on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:03 AM
    If you don't like what they serve, cook at home! My family has learned in recent years that going out to fast food will be occasionally, cooking and eating at home is more prominent! We didn't like what the kids were eating at fast food chains so WE opted to eat more at home that way we could control what the kids ate. So if you don't like what they serve then don't go there it is that simple.
  • by ambushed mom Location: onslow county on Jul 13, 2011 at 10:01 AM
    I think they should do away all together with the "free toy" in kids meals! All too often we, as parents, are set up (or ambushed) by the fast food industry to be harrassed, by our own children, to buy the meal so they can have the cheap toy! Instead, I challenge them to put the meal in a bag decorated and priced for children with a coupon for so much off the next purchase of a healthy snack, if they are truely concerned with childhood obesity and our childrens health... And to the parents out there, I challenge you to save your money on the junk food and buy your children a real toy every once in a while, that's what I do. The toys last longer and the kids like them alot better...
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:15 AM in reply to ambushed mom
      It's called restraint. You nor anyone else has to give in to a child's demands for a meal with a toy. This is exactly why entitlement mentality started way before welfare!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jul 13, 2011 at 02:47 PM in reply to
        AMEN!
      • reply
        by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:07 PM in reply to
        you are correct! thank god someone else gets it!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:20 PM in reply to
        u didn't read that well, she said she doesn't let them tell her, and she saves her money on the junk food. she was challenging others to do the same and be PARENTS.
    • reply
      by You are the Parent! on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:50 AM in reply to ambushed mom
      No, your children are ambushing YOU! They know good and well what they need to do to push your buttons and what it takes for you to give in. Children need guidance and boundaries that a real parent provides. The best way to really love your children, is to sometimes say NO! Fast food didn't become what it is today by ignoring the "in the hurry,don't have time to cook" families.
      • reply
        by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:09 PM in reply to You are the Parent!
        No, MY children have been taught better... i was speaking in general. I completely agree with your point of view, just not your personal judgement made from quickly reading my post and assuming you knew me.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:21 PM in reply to You are the Parent!
        read her post a little slower, she was offering good advice for parents who let their kids TELL them what is what. geez, you people need a prozac.
    • reply
      by Sgt Rock on Jul 13, 2011 at 03:06 PM in reply to ambushed mom
      If you cannot say no to your child for something as simple as a toy with a meal perhaps you should reevaluate your abilities to be a parent.
      • reply
        by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:10 PM in reply to Sgt Rock
        i completely agree! that's one of the many points i was trying to make!
    • reply
      by So, you're saying... on Jul 13, 2011 at 05:42 PM in reply to ambushed mom
      The grocery stores shouldn't carry ANYTHING that could be attractive to children. No advertizing tricks, no marketing tactics. Just cold hard facts on food labels. No cute charaters, no "Snap Crackle & Pop", Toucan Sam, Dig 'Em, ...not even a Rooster on the Corn Flakes box? ...Why not remove all the chocolates & sweets, too? Oh and potato chips, ice cream, cookies, etc. These are things that kids like but we don't want them to have. (I wonder how you'd feel if your mom kept you from some of the finer things in life?...or did she?)
      • reply
        by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:14 PM in reply to So, you're saying...
        no... i was more on the side of, be the parent... like i have been to my children. but to the industry that claims to be wanting to help the cause of child obesity, prove it... i gave my kids options, but they were healthy options, and on occassion i would offer the chip or cookie... so much so that now when we go to a buffet, they would rather eat more salad, and less pizza or fried chicken... moderation is part of educating and conditioning...
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:23 PM in reply to So, you're saying...
        she was challenging PARENTS to take back the control, from their kids and the food places. there are alot of bitter folks on here who don't pay very close attention before being judgemental.
      • reply
        by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 03:33 PM in reply to So, you're saying...
        and to your last statement; my mother died in a house fire i was lucky to have been rescued from at 2 years old, and i never knew my father... guess foster care just doesn't afford the "finer things in life" but i did have foster parents who did the best they could to raise me with love and compassion and respect for others and to make healthy choices... and on occasion i got a happy meal, heath bar, or fruit loop... thanks for asking <3
    • reply
      by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:06 PM in reply to ambushed mom
      many of you didn't read this post very well... i said keep the decor,i.e. characters, or marketing gimicks. i also practice what i preach and my children were, and are, taught to go for the healthy options, whether at a resturaunt or at the store or at home.they don't get "happy meals" they get things from the store that they are interested in, like books or games. when they were small, we kept fruits and veggies instead of cookies and candies, in the house for them to enjoy. i agree! it is about PARENTAL RESTRAINT AND RESPONSIBILITY FIRST AND FOREMOST... if you practice these things you teach your children that there are no "buttons" they CAN push =]perhaps some of you should re-evaluate your reading and comprehension skills. stop, take a deep breath, and re-evaluate how you treat, or respond, to people... but thanks for the feed back <3
  • by Anonymous on Jul 13, 2011 at 09:57 AM
    The best way to get healthy food is start cooking your own and stop eating at these fast food places. If you believe that fried apples are healthy you will believe anything.
    • reply
      by momof2 on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM in reply to
      It didn't say fried apples, it said apple fries, which are just apple slices. Try reading instead of just scimming the article.
      • reply
        by Puh-Leez on Jul 14, 2011 at 08:46 AM in reply to momof2
        Try learning how to spell. It's "skimming".
    • reply
      by ambushed mom on Jul 14, 2011 at 02:24 PM in reply to
      i agree. not only is it better for your whole family, but it's alot better on the family budget... two thumbs up to you!
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