Beginning today, kids will find some cool new choices on their restaurant menus -- choices that will make their parents happy, too.
More than 15,000 restaurants in the U.S., representing 19 different chains, including Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Chili's, Denny's and IHOP, are participating in a voluntary new initiative called Kids LiveWell.
It's being unveiled today by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining, the company that runs healthydiningfinder.com.
Many meals that fit into the program will carry an icon of a red apple. They must include an entrée, side dish and beverage and contain 600 calories or less, plus meet other nutritional criteria. Some meals that meet the guidelines:
- Burger King's breakfast muffin sandwich with fresh apple fries (slices) and fat-free milk.
- Corner Bakery Cafe's half turkey sandwich served on harvest bread, with a side of baby carrots, fruit medley and low-fat milk.
- Cracker Barrel's kids' chicken n' dumplings with organic apple juice.
These and other meals "meet the gold standard in terms of nutritional content," says Anita Jones-Mueller, founder of Healthy Dining.
"Kids can eat French fries, hamburgers and fried foods some of the time when they are eating out, but not all the time."
Some restaurants only have a couple kids' meals that meet the criteria now, but they are working on developing more, Jones-Mueller says.
Dawn Sweeney, president of the National Restaurant Association, says the group is planning to expand the program to thousands more restaurants in the coming weeks.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says offering healthier kids' meals at restaurants is important because children are getting about a third of their calories from eating out, and eating out is a big contributor to obesity. "Kids' meals have become synonymous with junk. They are usually a hamburger, a slice of pizza or fried chicken tenders with a side of french fries and a soda.
"We need to get to the point that the kids' meals are the healthiest meals, because kids are growing and developing and forming eating habits that are going to affect their health for the rest of their lives."
Find Kids LiveWell meals on healthydiningfinder.com.
By Nanci Hellmich