An interview with one of the founders of Healthy Dining, Anita Jones-Mueller.

Twenty-one years ago a team of registered dietitians and communications professionals created Healthy Dining. The goal was to publish books that detailed restaurants with healthy meals in San Diego.

The organization grew quickly through Southern California and the project is now nationwide and available online for free at

And thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Small Business Innovative Research Program, Healthy Dining is rolling out the “Healthy Dining School Wellness Rewards Program,” designed to contribute to the health and wellbeing of America’s children and families.

The new “Wellness Rewards Program” will raise money, through Healthy Dining’s restaurant partners, to help schools fund much-needed playground and PE equipment, garden programs, nutrition education and other wellness initiatives.

Phase one of the project ran during March and April.

Anita Jones-Mueller, one of the founders of Healthy Dining, talks to Restaurant Management.

Who’s participating in the pilot program?

This program is being pilot tested in the San Diego area. We have selected five elementary schools, representing approximately 3,000 families and six Healthy Dining restaurants to participate in this pilot program. The restaurants include Outback Steakhouse, Elephant Bar, Souplantation, Zpizza, Bernard’O Restaurant and Sombrero Mexican Restaurant. 

How does the program work?

The pilot program provides each student at the five Poway schools with a School Wellness Rewards card. During the 60-day test period, school families could dine out any time at any of the participating restaurants and present the School Wellness Rewards card for a 10 percent discount off their total bill.


And the restaurants will donate back a percentage of sales from these meals—or pay a membership fee, and this money is earmarked for wellness, PE, and garden programs.

This pilot program will be testing the impact of this program on the restaurants’ business. We will assess how many families dined out at the restaurants and then find an appropriate donation percent.

So the restaurants receive great local marketing outreach and the schools receive contributions to their wellness programs.

The funding from the CDC is paying for the evaluation of this program and seeing how we can run it and expand it.

What are the benefits for the restaurants?

Restaurants benefit because they are promoted through the schools’ PTA and communication vehicles. The families are loyal to those restaurants because they know that the restaurants are supporting their schools and kids.

And the schools?

Schools will receive the much-needed funding to ramp up or even resurrect their wellness program. The schools in this pilot program are using the funds for kickballs, jogging tracks, and one school is even using the money to help keep their PE teacher next year.

We know that schools have been moving forward with healthier school lunch programs and gardens and other wellness initiatives but they don’t have a long-term structure for that funding.

How do you plan to move forward with the program?

The restaurants will track the numbers of families participating and meals sold. Healthy Dining will then gather the data to evaluate and assess the potential for program expansion.

The ultimate goal of this research is to expand this local project throughout the state of California and eventually into a nationwide program in the next few years, encompassing thousands of schools and restaurants, with year-round opportunities for raising support for schools by dining out. 

Why do you think this program will be successful?

It’s such a win-win. The program helps restaurants thrive with new and loyal guests.

It helps schools provide important healthy lifestyle benefits to their students, which help kids learn and grow stronger.

It helps parents contribute to their schools by simply dining out at restaurants.

And parents can feel good that the restaurants offer Healthy Dining and Kids LiveWell menu choices.

Feature, Health & Nutrition, Philanthropy