(BPT) - As many families make their travel and leisure plans this year, they are happily discovering that a growing number of restaurants – in their hometowns and at their vacation destinations – are offering more healthful and great-tasting menu options for children.
With consumers growing more interested in better-for-you menu items, restaurants are responding to the demand with offerings that families will enjoy.
It is widely known, and National Restaurant Association data confirmed earlier this year, that chefs and consumers are on the same page when it comes to better child nutrition at restaurants. Healthful kids’ meals have become a top trend.
Not only are restaurant operators increasingly committed to providing healthful meals for kids, they’re showing it in proactive ways every day. One example of that is the industry’s recent participation in the inaugural Kids Recipe Challenge. Held earlier this spring, the contest, created by the National Restaurant Association in partnership with McCormick For Chefs, the Food Away From Home Division of McCormick & Company, shone a spotlight on the foodservice industry’s commitment to providing healthful, flavorful menu options for children.
Flavor is often the missing link to healthy eating, so McCormick For Chefs, children’s nutrition advocate, was the perfect partner to support industry efforts to raise awareness about developing kids’ meals that are nutritionally balanced and great tasting. Working to inspire healthy choices through flavor, the Kids Recipe Challenge showcased how foodservice professionals can easily develop wholesome recipes that promote memorable eating experiences for kids. Chefs and operators from large national chains like Qdoba Mexican Grill, to smaller independent operations like Boston Lobster Feast, actively competed in the challenge highlighting innovative ways to enthuse younger diners about eating well.
All of the challenge’s recipes were required to meet nutrition criteria set forth by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell initiative, which is based on the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. The program’s goal is to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, while limiting unhealthy fats, sugar and sodium.
Judged by a combination of industry experts and 30 prospective kid customers, the contest’s “industry tested, kid approved” approach resulted in the professionals selecting the challenge’s finalists and the kids choosing the ultimate winners. Winners in four categories earned bragging rights and were honored at the recent National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago.
The winning recipes incorporated some nutritious and innovative ideas, such as using spaghetti squash instead of regular spaghetti noodles, serving broccoli and sweet potatoes as sides, preparing chicken fingers coated in lightly salted potato chips instead of traditional breading, and substituting whole wheat tortillas for white flour tortillas or bread for wraps.
The Kids LiveWell initiative, which debuted nearly two years ago in July 2011, started with a handful of participants, but today boasts a membership of nearly 140 restaurant brands in over 40,000 locations that are committed to providing more healthful meals for children. In fact, restaurants in every state throughout the country now offer good-tasting choices as part of the initiative. Healthy meals can increasingly be found not only at independent restaurants, but also national chains and even museums and theme parks.
Launched in collaboration with a team of registered dietitians from the San Diego-based Healthy Dining Nutrition Consultancy, Kids LiveWell menu options can be found on Healthy Dining’s HealthyDiningFinder.com or by downloading the free Kids LiveWell smartphone app.
Through the program, parents have one more tool they can use in shaping healthful lifestyles for their children. So when mealtime comes around and dining out is an option, take advantage of the healthful menu selections being served in America’s restaurants. You’ll be glad you did.