With the latest obesity statistics finding that only Colorado and Washington, D.C., have a prevalence of obesity less than 20% in the U.S, it's time for some creative solutions. Kids LiveWell has convinced 15,000 restaurant locations across the U.S.—including chains like Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, and IHOP—to offer healthier meals for kids.
The reasoning behind the National Restaurant Association program is obvious: If chains offer healthier options, they can avoid some of the blame for the obesity crisis and win back customers who are concerned about the lack of low-calorie choices for their children.
The rules are stringent, too. In order to participate, restaurants have to offer at least one full children’s meal (that's an entree, side and beverage) that is under 600 calories; contains at least two servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, or low-fat dairy; and contains minimal sodium, fats, and sugar . At least one other individual item containing 200 calories or less (and containing at least one serving of the aforementioned items) has to be available. In other words,they have to offer normal sized meals.
At Denny's, this translates into items like the Spaghetti Plate, which contains spaghetti and marinara sauce, steamed broccoli and a piece of garlic bread. At Burger King, a sample healthy kids meal will include a hamburger, BK Fresh Apple Fries (fresh apples cut to look like french fries), and fat-free milk, among other things. And at IHOP, kids will be able to select tilapia with a side of broccoli.
What fast food-loving kid is going to choose the healthier, less fun option without a fight? Burger King probably has the right idea with the Fresh Apple Fries, which have been around for years. As we explained in a recent Fast Company article, making healthy options look like more attractive-looking "junk food" is all about good marketing—and french fry-shaped apple slices are pretty convincing. Steamed broccoli, on the other hand, isn't nearly as attractive.
It's encouraging to see popular restaurant chains that are notorious for their high-calorie options adding healthier items. This may not end the obesity epidemic, but healthy, reasonably priced dishes are a start. Now they just need to start offering healthier selections for adults.
[Image: Burger King]