Good news for parents

can tilapia compete with this in a kid's mind?

Health-conscious parents have a new and rather unlikely ally in the struggle to get their kids to eat healthier food: the National Restaurant Association.  A new program, Kids LiveWell, was launched recently.  Kids LiveWell is voluntary for restaurants, but 19 nation-wide chains, representing 15,000 restaurant locations are on board with the effort.  Possibly those corporations are really concerned about child nutrition.  More likely, they understand that health-conscious parents make good customers, if you give them the menu options they want.

The basics are:

  1. calorie control – a complete meal is 600 calories or less
  2. balance – inclusion of fruit or vegetables and whole grains
  3. lower fat meat and dairy foods
  4. limit on sugars from all sources

The last one is my favorite, but all the criteria are worthy.  Restaurants may still offer more traditional kids’ meal selections, such as the tired old mac ‘n cheese, chicken nuggets or hot dogs and french fries.  The Kids LiveWell choices are identified by a red apple symbol.

Will this fix childhood obesity?  Highly unlikely.  This program is likely to appeal most to parents who are already nutrition and health-conscious.  Those parents are probably already focusing on healthy food at home.  Whether less concerned parents will force their kids to accept “healthy” meals, while they eat cheeseburgers, fries and soda pop is a big question.  The well meaning Mom may order turkey sliders on whole wheat buns for Junior, but will Junior throw a fit and scream for chicken nuggets and soda pop?  And if he does, will Mom give in?  Parents may be health conscious, but they also money and value conscious.  Ordering a “healthy” meal that ends up in the trash is only going to happen one time.  A parent spending money at a restaurant wants to know that Junior actually got some value out of that purchase.

IHOP is one participating restaurant.  People go to IHOP for pancakes.  They look irresistible, especially to kids, with all the whipped cream and chocolate syrup.  What kid is going to be satisfied with scrambled egg substitute (gah!) and some fresh fruit while everyone else at the table eats pancakes drenched in syrup and whipped cream?  Another choice: tilapia and broccoli.  How can that compete with pancakes??  Likely scenario: child gets “healthy” menu choice; child picks at it and whines; child ends up eating pancakes off parent’s plate.

I’m glad restaurants are making an effort.  Many kids are growing up with sophisticated tastes, so limiting them to hot dogs and chicken nuggets at restaurants is practically insulting.  Designing kids’ menu choices based on the restrictive Kids LiveWell criteria is a start, but it’s also possible to simplify the effort by adding fruit, raw veggie sticks and milk to the existing menu.  Maybe the item doesn’t get the official Kids LiveWell symbol, but it’s an easy way to improve a simple hamburger or pizza slice.

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