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National Restaurant Association - Chains ramp up efforts to create healthy kids’ meals

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Chains ramp up efforts to create healthy kids’ meals

Families have always enjoyed dining out together at restaurants, and now they’re looking to operators to provide them with more balanced dining choices. To meet that request, chefs and restaurateurs are ramping up efforts to create more better-for-you, great-tasting foods they all will love.

“Many restaurants are working to update their menus so kids are satisfied with the choices available to them," says Jeff Clark, the National Restaurant Association’s director of sustainability and nutrition. "Today, more kids' menus feature foods made from fresh ingredients that are prepared creatively, healthfully, and are a lot of fun to eat.”

Clark adds that restaurateurs know their adult clients want nutritious items for their kids and that they must cater to that demand or risk losing business. To succeed, they, their chefs and suppliers are working on dishes children and their parents can love equally.

The following are four examples of national chains offering better-for-you options on their menus:

Panera Bread

Since 2014, Panera has committed to serving food without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors. It also offers lower-calorie kids meals, including a turkey chili (pictured), made from antibiotic-free turkey, beans, veggies and spices that is 230 calories; a turkey sandwich with American cheese on whole grain bread that is 280 calories; and a Greek salad with romaine, vine-ripened tomatoes, feta cheese, red onions and Kalamata olives in Greek dressing. It is 200 calories.

Applebee’s

The casual-dining chain is proving you can prepare meals for kids that are flavorful and better for you at the same time. Options include a 240-calorie chicken taco that consists of chopped chicken in a soft flour tortilla with lettuce, tomatoes and Cheddar cheese; or a 370-calorie chicken quesadilla (pictured) in a grilled tortilla with Chipotle lime chicken, pico de gallo and melted cheddar cheese. Side orders include steamed broccoli at 30 calories, an applesauce cup for 60 calories or sliced strawberries with vanilla yogurt for 100 calories.

Uno Chicago Grill

Known for its deep-dish pizzas, this chain serves that signature item as well as spaghetti and meatballs, and macaroni and cheese. But, it’s also raising the bar with options like its 290-calorie Safari Nuggets (pictured), that are baked and not fried; and a grilled chicken entrée with steamed broccoli that is less than 350 calories. Healthful side items include roasted veggies at 70 calories, brown rice at 190 calories, fresh grapes for 50 calories or carrots and cucumbers for 60 calories.

Red Lobster

There’s a veritable feast waiting for this chain’s youngest customers to dig into. The kids’ menu features a chilled lobster and shrimp roll (pictured) with a side of fresh fruit for 330 calories; garlic-grilled shrimp with steamed broccoli for 120 calories; broiled tilapia and steamed broccoli for 290 calories; and even popcorn shrimp for 250 calories. There’s also a macaroni and cheese option that is 280 calories.

What’s the end result? The industry is making more modifications and adding better-for-you foods, but consumers must also choose those items for themselves and their children.

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