It wasn’t Bring Your Child to Work Day, but that’s certainly what it felt like at the launch of the National Restaurant Association’s new healthy kids menu initiative “Kids LiveWell” in Washington, D.C., today.
Children and parents filled the room at the National Press Club, enjoying the new menu items introduced as part of the initiative.
Kids LiveWell is a nationwide program that provides parents and children with healthy meal options when dining out. It is in collaboration with the website HealthDiningFinder.com, and requires meals carrying the LiveWell logo to contain two servings of fruits or vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
All LiveWell kids meals must also have 600 or fewer calories. A meal includes an entrée, a side dish, and a drink.
“We’re constantly evolving to meet customers’ needs,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the NRA. “Restaurants are woven into Americans’ lives.” She went on to explain that it’s the NRA’s goal to offer voluntary and flexible options for restaurants to serve healthy meals.
Healthy Dining, which runs the website HealthyDiningFinder.com, will serve as the third-party validator of the nutrition profile of menu items. Locations serving LiveWell-approved menu items will then be listed on the site, making it easier for parents to identify restaurants with better menu choices for children, no matter their market.
“Kids LiveWell empowers parents to confidently make informed decisions abut their children’s meals as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” said Anita Jones-Mueller, founder of Healthy Dining.
Of the 19 inaugural restaurant partners in the Kids LiveWell program, most are casual-dining concepts. Only six are quick serves. The biggest full-service company to participate is OSI Restaurant Partners, which includes Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill.
Perhaps the most passionate was Ype Von Hengst, founder and vice president of culinary operations at Silver Diner, a mid-Atlantic burger and shakes concept. "This issue is very close to my heart," he said. "We have a moral obligation to serve this kind of food to our kids."
Other stakeholders within the industry echoed the chef's sentiment, including Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.
"Eating well, especially when eating out, is the road less traveled in America today, by children and adults alike," he said. "With this initiative, the NRA and Healthy Dining are helping pave that path."
Many of the full serves participating also provided samples of their LiveWell menu items, which ranged from watermelon slices to crab legs.
As the youngest attendees enjoyed plates of fresh vegetables, bison sliders, and glasses of organic apple juice, industry officials and media stopped by for their take on the new menu items.
“I’m not supposed to talk with food in my mouth,” one young boy said with a smile.
The LiveWell-approved menu items are being offered at nearly 15,000 locations across the country.
The 19 restaurant brands participating in the launch are: 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.