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National Restaurant Association - Chef Robert Irvine: Make healthful choices easy for kids

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Chef Robert Irvine: Make healthful choices easy for kids

With more than 25 years of experience in the culinary profession, Chef Robert Irvine has cooked his way through Europe, the Far East, the Caribbean and the Americas. Today he is host of The Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible and Restaurant Express TV shows. The author of two cookbooks, Mission: Cook! and Impossible to Easy, Irvine, also a spokesman for Sysco Corp., is passionate about providing more healthful kids’ meals. A champion of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell and Kids Recipe Challenge initiatives, the celebrity chef will participate in the World Culinary Showcase at NRA Show 2014 in Chicago, May 17-20.

How is the restaurant industry doing in offering more healthful choices for children?
Kids’ nutrition continues to be a top trend in the industry. There’s increasing interest from restaurant operators and chefs in serving better-for-you kids’ menu items, for business reasons and because they are truly concerned about what children are eating. It’s great that an increasing number of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are coming up with kids’ meals that are lower in calories, salt and fat, and higher in nutrition. I think we’d all be surprised at how often kids really like the better-for-you options.

What should restaurateurs focus on when creating healthful menu options for kids?
Let’s face it, kids gravitate toward what they know and like and that oftentimes means foods that aren’t the best for them. So the idea is to take popular foods, but make a few important tweaks to enhance the nutritional value and control the calories. The key is to develop dishes that aren’t necessarily labeled healthy, but are nutritious, appealing and delicious.

Why are the Kids LiveWell and Kids LiveWell Recipe Challenge programs integral to providing more nutritious kids’ options?
Restaurants participating in the NRA’s Kids LiveWell program make it more convenient for busy parents to identify dining locations that offer healthier, more nutritious meals. That’s what’s great about the program.

Where do you see this movement headed? What would you like to see?
Behaviors change slowly, so we can’t just make this about pleasing Mom and Dad. Kids need to be engaged in the process, too. They’re good learners, but you have to make it fun for them. Their education needs to include food lessons as well as information about exercise. There seems to be an education void about these topics at home and at school. To fill that void you’ve got to make it a priority and you’ve got to make it fun. I think the focus on healthier eating and lifestyles, including kids’ nutrition, will continue to be top trends, so restaurant operators and chefs who anticipate and meet this growing interest among their patrons will see the payoff. It’s great when doing the right thing can grow business and customers.

You will be participating in a live demo/presentation at NRA Show 2014 in Chicago on May 17. What is your goal?
I’m on a mission to help kids eat well and get healthy – it’s one of the best and most important things I do as a chef. Families are busy and oftentimes convenience takes the place of healthy eating, but it doesn’t have to. You can still eat out, but make smarter, healthier choices. The NRA’s Kids LiveWell program promotes that mission – helping to educate families about good nutrition and eating well, while helping restaurants easily incorporate nutritious, kid-friendly recipes into their menus. Getting that important message out and having some fun working with creative, delicious recipes, is a win-win for me.

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