The National Restaurant Association recently held their annual convention in Chicago where they got to highlight their Kids LiveWell program and #KidsLiveWell recipe challenge. This challenge let several food vendors and restaurants create healthy and delicious kids recipes to see who would be able to come up with the most popular delicious and nutritious recipe. The purpose of this event was to promote the Kids LiveWell program and to recognize the people in the food industry that are already doing it right and making difference.There are already nearly 42,000 participating restaurant locations nationwide and the National Restaurant Association is looking for more.
Since the convention I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Joy Dubost, who discussed with me more about this program and why it is important. She also gave me tips how we can help our children eat healthier.
Interview with Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, Director of Nutrition and Healthy Living, National Restaurant Association
Why should the restaurant industry take a hard look at providing healthier options for children and families?
Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in what is on their plates, where it comes from and how it’s prepared. In particular, health and nutrition continue to be top of mind. According to National Restaurant Association research, more than seven out of 10 consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthful options. The restaurant industry is committed to providing these options to their patrons. In fact, more than eight of 10 adults agree that restaurants offer more healthful choices now compared to two years ago.
One way restaurants are showing their passion and commitment to children’s nutrition is through the Kids LiveWell program. The National Restaurant Association launched this initiative in 2011 to help make the healthful choice the easy choice when dining out with children. The voluntary program has grown from 19 restaurant brands representing 15,000 locations to over 145 restaurant brands, representing 42,000 locations nationwide. The program has also expanded beyond restaurants to museums, theme parks and resorts.
Can you share some examples of restaurants that are doing it right?
Restaurants across the country are taking the steps to provide healthful menu options. To see specific examples, HealthyDiningFinder.com lists the restaurants that are part of the Kids LiveWell program. Restaurants in the Kids LiveWell program have committed to providing meals that meet specific nutritional criteria based off the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. The meals focus on increasing the consumption of low-fat dairy, fruit and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, while limiting unhealthful fats, sugars and sodium.
The National Restaurant Association, in partnership with McCormick for Chefs, created the Kids LiveWell Recipe Challenge to shine a spotlight on the positive efforts of the restaurant and foodservice industry in kids’ nutrition. The Challenge takes an “industry tested, kid approved” approach with a panel of food and nutrition professionals selecting finalists and elementary school students choosing the winners.
Restaurants and foodservice companies that applied are examples of those using their culinary ingenuity in not only creating a healthful meal, but a meal that is creative and memorable for kids. This year’s winners are a prime example of this: Sysco Hampton Roads, O’Charley’s, UW Health and Bean Sprouts Café.
If you were going to grade the food industry in general for healthy options, what grade would it receive.
The industry is taking all the right steps in creating healthful options for consumers; however, it’s important to keep in mind that there is always room for improvement. It’s encouraging to see that children’s nutrition is a top priority for chefs and that they continue to put their creativity in healthful kids meals to work on restaurant menus. In fact, healthful kids’ meals have ranked as a top 10 menu trend on the Association’s What’s Hot Chef Survey – a survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs – for the past five years, indicating that children’s nutrition is a true trend for the restaurant and foodservice industry, not a passing fad.
The restaurant industry is committed to health and nutrition in a myriad of ways – from looking for ways to reduce sodium in meals to providing options for consumers with celiac disease and food allergies to working to make nutrition information available on websites and menus.
Please share some examples how families and moms can provide healthier meals to our children.
We know that when parents dine out, they are increasingly looking for healthful options for their children. Many restaurants already have them and with the Kids LiveWell program, our goal is to make the healthful choice, the easy choice. We want to make locating a Kids LiveWell restaurant and identifying their qualifying meals as simple as possible.
I encourage parents and caretakers to look at HealthyDiningFinder.com. The site has a dedicated Kids LiveWell section that not only lists every participating restaurant, but also each member’s qualifying Kids LiveWell meals (which must include an entrée, side and beverage), as well as each meals’ nutritional information.
We also have a free Kids LiveWell app for both iPhone and Android that helps to find participating restaurants while on-the-go, and when dining out, keep your eyes out for the Kids LiveWell logo and apple on restaurant menus.
Making healthy meals is one thing, but getting our kids to eat them is another, how can we balance the two?
Keep in mind that kids typically outgrow many picky eating habits after the age of 6, as growth spurts are often accompanied by changes in appetite and food consumption. But while they are going through this stage, I have several tips that could help:
- Make sure fruits are ripe, sweet and juicy to tempt kids’ taste buds.
- For picky kids – introduce foods over and over – kids’ taste buds change over time.
- Offer picky eaters sweeter veggies like carrots, acorn squash and sweet potatoes.
- Give fruits and vegetables fun names to make them more appealing.
We even put together a video for my Ask the Nutritionist series featuring myself and Bill Wurtzel, the creator of Funny Food. The video has fun tips on making meals that are nutritious and fun for children to eat: http://youtu.be/r7aLj9Xuxxo.
How serious is the child obesity problem, and what are ways we can fight it?
In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. However Philadelphia, New York City, Mississippi and California are among the locations reporting declining childhood obesity rates as a result of taking comprehensive action to address the epidemic. A recent survey found that the obesity rate for children 2-5 years old has dropped 43 percent in a decade.
Through efforts and initiatives such as the Kids LiveWell program, the restaurant industry has been taking a proactive role in addressing childhood obesity. The Kids LiveWell Recipe Challenge was also created to not only shine a spotlight on the current positive efforts of the industry, but also to encourage more restaurants to diversify their children’s items by offering healthful, innovative meals.