Parents looking to take their family out for a healthy and enjoyable meal will no
longer have to choose between expensive fancy restaurants and fast food heaven
(or hell.) Now, there are at least 19 popular chain restaurants–including IHOP,
Chili’s, and Burger King, who recently reported they will be offering healthier menu
options on their kid’s menus.
This announcement came from the National Restaurant Association and mimics the concerns of consumer advocates and health officials who are crying out for improved nutrition and reducing calories for America’s children. When you consider that nearly one in three kids are either overweight or obese, the recent decision couldn’t have happened soon enough.More fruits and vegetables and less sugar and fat are a good start in the right direction.
The new and improved menus will focus on increasing fruit and vegetable choices, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy. The toxic sugars, unhealthy fats and sodium-rich foods will be limited. Cheeseburgers and French fries will still be an option, though not the default menu.
Robert Posts, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion said, “This is a great start to help empower consumers–kids and parents especially–with healthier choices at restaurants.”
However, other health officials would like to see more. “It’s a good baby step forward but they have a lot more work to do,” said Margo Wooten, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Kid’s meals aren’t the occasional indulgence that they once were. They are a regular part of children’s diets.”Health by default.
Burger King plans to include sliced apples and fat-free milk or juice as the default selection for its kid’s meals. They can still have their fries and soda but the customers will have to specifically ask for them. Wooden said that Burger King’s movement is very significant.
“There is a huge body of literature showing that people stick with the defaults. We could leave the default to chance or try to make it better.”
Chains such as IHOP are also offering select menu items for children that have lower calorie counts.
Perhaps the change in practice–and in heart–for these popular restaurant chains has at least something to do with the fact that McDonald’s was sued last year in an effort to prevent them from using Happy Meal toys to entice children into their restaurant. Then there’s the added pressure from the American Academy of Pediatrics calling for a ban on junk food ads marketed towards children.
Soon the federal government will require restaurants to include a calorie count on their menus. FDA guidelines will specify that chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, as well as coffee chains, bakeries, convenience stores and grocery stores, must clearly list the calories contained in the foods on their menus. Hopefully, all this will spell not only healthier food choices but healthier children as well.