Saying it’s time to do its part to help fight childhood obesity, the National Restaurant Association is rolling out Kids LiveWell, a program to help restaurants offer healthier menu items for children.

Restaurant association focuses on healthy childrenParticipating restaurants must agree to offer, promote and identify through nutrition profiles a selection of menu offerings that meet criteria based on recommendations from scientists and health organizations including the USDA Dietary Guidelines.

Restaurants must offer a children’s meal which can be an entree with a side and beverage with 600 calories or less and offer at least one other item with 200 calories or less. Meals have limits on sodium, fats and sugar and must contain a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy.

“These Kids LiveWell items emphasize healthful items such as fruits and vegetables,” said Dawn Sweeney, the association’s president and chief executive officer. “These choices also meet stringent nutritional criteria and are fully aligned with 2010 USDA dietary guidelines. This says a lot about our industry that restaurants are excited and stepping up to the plate to help children make healthy and easy choices.”

Restaurant association focuses on healthy childrenAt the July 13 launch, the association said 19 foodservice operators and up to 15,000 restaurants have agreed to participate. Those restaurants can use the Kids LiveWell icon on menus to promote its healthier items.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hockessin, Del., said the move is obviously positive for produce.

“It used to be that eating out was a treat, but now it is simply a way of life for so many consumers with today’s hectic schedules,” Pivonka said. “Not only is it great that these restaurants have provided healthy options, but they are helping to identify them and promote them as well. With more than 500,000 food service and drinking places, and more than 200,000 of them as full-service restaurants, we still have a way to go, but 15,000 restaurants is a super start. I suspect more restaurants will sign up soon.”

During the July 13 announcement, restaurant operators discussed healthy food offerings.

Ype Von Hengst, executive chef and founder of the Silver Diner, a Rockville, Md., chain that has locations in Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, said the childhood obesity issue remains close to his heart.

“I feel strongly that kids are not born with chicken tenders in one hand and macaroni and cheese in the other,” he said. “If that’s all we’re going to give them in the restaurants, that’s all they will eat. We all have in the U.S. a moral obligation to give our kids better and healthier food. This is the first generation which won’t live as long as we do. We want to give them healthy and local options.”

Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said Kids LiveWell is another boost for the Foodservice 2020 initiative PMA helped create, which seeks to double consumption of fruits and vegetables at restaurants.

“It’s no surprise that increased servings of fruits and vegetables top the list for the program’s guidelines,” he said in a statement. “What pleases me just as much is that this program really shows government and industry working together to ensure our children eat healthier and tasty meals, while providing clear guidance to parents for meals at home or dining out.”

Parents can discover Kids LiveWell options in their cities by visiting www.HealthyDiningFinder.com.