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National Restaurant Association - Healthful meals for kids gaining traction, NRA’s McGlockton says

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Healthful meals for kids gaining traction, NRA’s McGlockton says

As more customers seek healthful options for their children when dining out, restaurant operators are becoming more invested in offering more healthful kids’ meal options.

As a result, a number of restaurateurs, including chains and independent operators, are working with the National Restaurant Association and its Kids LiveWell program to make healthful meals more accessible to those consumers.

Joan McGlockton, the NRA’s vice president of industry affairs and food policy, recently discussed some of the nutrition changes she’s been seeing.

How is the restaurant industry handling consumer demand for more healthful menu items?
The industry is providing healthier options for both kids and adults and being more proactive in informing consumers about the choices available to them. In some cases, restaurants are more actively promoting the more-healthful, less-caloric options.  In other cases, restaurants may be taking more of a “stealth health” approach – you know, making little, healthful tweaks to items without drawing too much attention to them. With menu labeling on the horizon, calories will soon be posted on menus and other nutrition information will be available to customers. The readiness and reality of restaurants offering more healthful choices will be even more apparent when this comes to fruition.

What’s the biggest shift you’ve seen in the last year or so?
The growing awareness by consumers about what is on their plates has been fascinating to see. Consumers want to know more about the food supply   where food comes from, under what conditions it is produced, and the social and environmental impacts of food production. There is an expanding interest in health and nutrition, especially for the youngest people served by the restaurant industry. When you look at the Association’s latest What’s Hot study, it indicates that consumers are much more interested in seeking out healthful items, especially for their children. They’re also looking for options that contain more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Our industry is one that’s always been creative, that strives to meet its customers’ needs and desires. So with customers telling us they’re looking for more healthful choices, and with the obesity crisis we’re facing in this country, it’s no surprise that  operators are focusing on these issues.

Who must the industry focus its healthful message on?
At a minimum, parents. Restaurants must expand healthier options for children and help parents make the healthy choice. Being able to provide information that helps moms and dads make informed and balanced decisions is critical. Although my children are now adults, I can remember how chaotic it was when we would go to restaurants when they were little. They got so excited about the variety of choices that it became overwhelming for them and me! The ability to preplan that experience would greatly help parents.

How does social media figure into all of this?
The Internet in general provides tremendous opportunity. Social media allows us the opportunity to engage instantly, and with so many apps focused on health, it’s much easier for consumers to find information on healthful dining.  Many restaurants already list calories on their websites, and more and more are now offering this information in a mobile format. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and other health-focused organizations also provide helpful tools for consumers. The Association’s Kids LiveWell program also has a mobile app available and Healthy Dining, which developed Kids LiveWell in collaboration with the NRA, has a mobile website to provide consumers with ready access to restaurants promoting healthy entrees.

What is the restaurant industry saying about the problem of child obesity?
Our members recognize we have a role to play in addressing childhood obesity, and many have taken proactive steps in that direction. They certainly recognize the industry must be part of the solution. Obesity is a complicated problem that requires the participation of and commitment from all stakeholders, including the restaurant industry. Most operators agree that providing balanced choices with accurate nutrition information will allow consumers to choose options that meet their preferences.  The industry wants to please its customers with an array of options that are satisfying, whether you dine at restaurants for a healthful meal or are looking for that occasional splurge.

What does the future hold for Kids LiveWell?
We would like to see every restaurant that serves children offering at least one Kids LiveWell option on their menus! That’s our gold standard!

Pictured, top right: Joan McGlockton

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