Healthy Kids' Meals: Restaurants Focusing on a New Menu

Girl eating salad

As parents look to eat better, attention should be given to portions for children.

The days of kids’ meals consisting of your choice of chicken fingers or grilled cheese with fries may be fading as many restaurants are offering fresh, healthy options to children including smaller portions of steak dinners, fresh fish, and even ethnic cuisines.

As healthy eating continues to be a focus for many Americans, families are often choosing their dining location based on the health of the menu. Parents are not only becoming more concerned with the nutrition of the meals they are consuming, but also with what their children are eating.

Make Your Healthy Kids’ Meals Tasty and Fun

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), flavor and fun are the keys to offering healthy kids’ meals that will be marketable. Getting children to consume healthy foods can be very challenging, but many restaurants have already been able to combat this challenge with creativity and flavor.

The NRA also reports that the new Happy Meals purchased at McDonalds have an average of 18 percent fewer calories than the previous meals served. Creating a healthy menu for kids is more than just looking at a meal’s calorie content, it also takes other things, such as fat and sugar content, into consideration.

This is challenging for restaurants as they are trying to also focus on the food’s taste and appeal. The NRA launched a Kids LiveWell initiative back in 2011 in order to help parents and children select healthy menu options when dining out. The restaurants that are participating in this program commit to offering healthy meals to kids, focusing on increasing fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and low fat dairy, while limiting unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium.

Overall, these meals must be less than 600 calories. This program, which consists of nearly 500 restaurants, has introduced more than 450 new kid’s meals and 450 new sides that meet the LiveWell guidelines.

Restaurants Making a Difference

While it is no surprise that childhood obesity continues to be an issue in the United States, it is refreshing to see that the restaurant industry is trying to provide a healthy menu for kids.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), children consume, on average, 25% of their daily calories from fast-food and other restaurants. This highlights why the nutritional quality of kids’ meals is so important. These initiatives are right in line with the school regulations that have been implemented focusing on making school meals more healthful as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The overall percentage of meals that meet the nutrition standards has increased since 2008 from 1% to 3% per a CSPI report, so while some progress has been made, it is clear this should continue to be a focus and growing trend.

For more information on the LiveWell Initiative or for a list of participating restaurants, please visit the National Restaurant Association website.