Celebrating its two-year anniversary this week, the National Restaurant Association’s groundbreaking Kids LiveWell initiative has grown to more than 41,000 restaurant locations nationwide, the Association announced. The voluntary program, which provides parents with a growing selection of healthful children’s menu choices in every state, now counts more than 140 restaurant brands as participants, including new national companies Wendy’s, Red Robin, Dairy Queen, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Big Boy, among other regional chains and independent restaurants.  

“The Kids LiveWell initiative has achieved remarkable success in its first two years with the program expanding to over 140 participating restaurant brands and into museums, theme parks, and resorts,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “The tremendous response and excitement for Kids LiveWell is evidence of the industry’s commitment to providing healthful meal options for children. We look forward to the continued growth of the program over the next year.”

The National Restaurant Association launched the first-of-its-kind initiative in July 2011 in collaboration with partner Healthy Dining and 19 inaugural brand leaders representing 15,000 locations.

“It has been an outstanding two years for Kids LiveWell. We applaud the participating restaurants’ commitment and their chefs’ dedication to developing innovative and healthful menu options for children,” says Anita Jones-Mueller,  president and founder of Healthy Dining. “It is exciting to see the number of Kids LiveWell restaurants featured on HealthyDiningFinder.com continuing to grow, and coupled with genuine enthusiasm from restaurants, parents, and kids.”    

As part of its two-year anniversary celebration, the National Restaurant Association is showcasing Kids LiveWell at the annual BlogHer convention later this week in Chicago. Joined by participating brands Applebee’s, Arby’s, Chili’s, Denny’s, and IHOP, along with Healthy Dining, Association staff will promote the growing selection of healthful kids meals at restaurants nationwide to the 5,000 expected attendees.

Building on the initiative’s positive momentum, the National Restaurant Association has expanded the program by recruiting foodservice suppliers, including Kraft Foods, Kellogg’s, and PepsiCo, which offer qualifying products that help create healthful Kids LiveWell meals. Earlier this year, the Association announced that national distributor Sysco would begin offering more than 25 Kids LiveWell meals to restaurants across the country.

In addition, the Association held the inaugural Kids Recipe Challenge this spring. Created with founding partner McCormick For Chefs, the Kids Recipe Challenge recognizes delicious, healthful items that meet Kids LiveWell guidelines from children’s menus at restaurants and foodservice establishments nationwide. Winners were recognized at the annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago in May.

To join Kids LiveWell, restaurants agree to offer and promote a selection of qualifying menu items based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. The initiative focuses on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limiting total calories, unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium.

Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians works with restaurants to identify and validate menu choices that meet the program’s criteria.

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