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National Restaurant Association - Healthy choices for kids are 'in' while dining out

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Healthy choices for kids are 'in' while dining out

Did you know the average family dines out five times a week? America’s restaurants fill an important role for families in every community. As president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, the leading trade association representing our restaurant industry, I recognize the opportunity restaurants have to lead a national conversation around healthy living.  I am proud to note the industry has taken up this leadership mantle. As a result, families are finding more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat milk options on their favorite restaurant menus. 

When I came to the National Restaurant Association in 2007, I set a personal goal to not only encourage more restaurants to serve healthful options to our youngest patrons, but also to spotlight the industry’s innovation in creating nutritious meals.

In 2011, the National Restaurant Association launched the groundbreaking Kids LiveWell initiative, a first-of-its-kind voluntary industry program committed to providing families with a growing selection of healthful children’s menu choices when dining out.

Meals that meet the Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria focus on increasing kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, while limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.

The program, developed in collaboration with Healthy Dining’s team of nutrition experts, launched with 19 inaugural brand leaders representing 15,000 locations nationwide. This summer, as we celebrate the program’s fourth anniversary, we are proud to have seen tremendous growth to 155 restaurant brands, representing over 42,000 locations around the country and providing healthful kids’ options in all 50 states.

Kids LiveWell participating restaurants range from independent restaurants to national brands, and include both quickservice and casual dining restaurants. When traveling this summer, families will notice that Kids LiveWell’s reach also expands beyond the traditional restaurant concept, to theme parks, resorts, and museums. Participating Kids LiveWell restaurants currently are offering special kids’ meal promotions to celebrate our four-year milestone.

Through Kids LiveWell, we have aimed to empower parents and caregivers with accurate nutritional information so that they can confidently make informed decisions about their children’s meals. HealthyDiningFinder.com makes it easy to find Kids LiveWell options, and the Kids LiveWell mobile app allows families to find participating restaurants while on-the-go.

So now we know that restaurants are offering healthful options, but are customers buying them? Research unveiled earlier this summer says yes. Researchers at Tufts University found that more people ordered healthful kids’ meals after Maryland-based chain and inaugural Kids LiveWell member, Silver Diner, added options that met the Kids LiveWell criteria.

This evidence should further bolster the industry’s innovation in creating more nutritious meals.

While I am enormously proud of Kids LiveWell’s success in its short lifespan, the program’s growth remains a top personal priority. The National Restaurant Association continues to encourage restaurants of all sizes to join us in our efforts. In addition, we are motivating current participants to increase the number of Kids LiveWell-approved meals offered on the menu.

Families looking for these healthful options should encourage their favorite restaurants to join us. Healthful kids’ meals are a trend we can all get behind. 

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