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National Restaurant Association - Flavor, fun are keys to making healthful kids’ meals work

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Flavor, fun are keys to making healthful kids’ meals work

As demand for healthful kids’ meals at restaurants grows, restaurateurs need to make sure those foods are also flavorful, fun and interesting, the National Restaurant Association’s vice president of industry relations and food policy said.

“Healthful meals will not work if they are not flavorful and the kids don’t like them,” the NRA’s Joan Rector McGlockton said during a presentation at this year’s Partnership for a Healthier America conference in Washington, D.C. “You have to make it easy and fun, and also find ways to get them emotionally engaged in the meal.”

McGlockton, one of the architects of the Association’s successful Kids LiveWell healthy dining program, told attendees at the conference that the restaurant industry is making huge strides in its efforts to help curb the child obesity epidemic in the United States.

She said the Kids LiveWell program, which debuted in 2011, now includes nearly 150 restaurant and foodservice companies reaching more than 42,000 locations. All participants offer Kids LiveWell meals that are less than 600 calories and focus on lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting unhealthful fats, salt and sugar. “In just two short years the restaurant industry – through the Kids LiveWell program alone ‑ has introduced more than 450 new kids’ meals and more than 450 side items” that meet Kids LiveWell criteria. “The industry realizes it‘s important to try to provide solutions” on child obesity, she said.

She noted that industry leaders working to improve their kids’ meals offerings include McDonald’s, Darden Restaurants, Disney, and Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar.

“Recent research has indicated that the new Happy Meals purchased had an average of 18 percent fewer calories,” she said. “Darden has revamped its kids’ meals to default healthful sides and beverages. And Applebee’s has introduced a two-tiered kids’ menu that appeals to both younger and older youth, who often don’t want to buy food off of the kids’ meal menu because they view themselves as adults.”

There is still more work to do, she noted, but the restaurant industry is moving forward.

McGlockton also stated that for restaurateurs to be more successful in providing more healthful options for kids, they first have to better educate their adult customers about the nutritious offerings available.

“If parents don’t know these healthful kids’ meals exist, they won’t buy them,” she said. “That will defeat the whole purpose.”

At the end of her presentation, McGlockton urged conference attendees – largely composed of public health advocates-- to pay attention to the progress restaurants have already made and encourage them in future. “Let’s support the steps restaurateurs are taking and help inspire them to do more.”

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