Move over chicken nuggets and fries. New regulations for healthier restaurant menus are not just for adults. Traditional kids’ menus are about to get a makeover as well. Children love having their own menus at restaurants. This is not just because they usually have coloring sheets or word puzzles on the back, but because they include some of their favorite foods – macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese and chicken fingers. These foods don’t win any nutrition awards.
Can restaurant menus help our children eat better and contribute to reducing childhood obesity? The National Restaurant Association says yes. The NRS (not that one) has recently partnered with a nutrition website called HealthyDiningFinder.com to create the Kids LiveWell program, which sets standards for healthier kids’ menu items for both chain and independent restaurants. Throughout time and throughout all cultures, the foods we eat are the easiest choices. Kids are no different than adults. The Kids LiveWell program is about making the healthful choices the easiest. Menu items emphasize lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limit unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Entrees are limited to 600 calories with no more than 35 percent coming from fat.
In the What’s Hot in 2012 survey of 1,800 chefs, healthful kids’ menus came in third out of 220 food trends. Kids LiveWell has around 100 chain restaurants participating with almost 30,000 locations. Any restaurants may join Kids LiveWell as long as they 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.
Here is the current list of participating restaurants in North Idaho:
- Burger King
- Outback Steakhouse
- Tony Roma’s
Best of all, there is now a Kids LiveWell app (which is geo-coded) for Android and iPhone devices. Just search for Kids LiveWell mobile app.
If you favorite restaurants are not participating in Kids LiveWell there are some things you can do to ensure your children receive healthy meals when dining out. For breakfasts encourage child sized waffles or pancakes with fresh fruit such as blueberries, strawberries or applesauce. Fruit and yogurt parfaits are another good choice. Swap whole wheat toast for white toast and ask for fruit instead of hash browns. Let your child pick the vegetables to put in their omelet. For lunch or dinner split a healthful adult entrée. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side. If your child insists on a grilled cheese, hot dog or chicken nuggets, balance it out with an order of steamed broccoli or fruit cup.
For more information about the NRA's Kids LiveWell program visit their website.