SmartBrief readers say healthy menus and nutrition are top interests for restaurant owners and chefs, and many of their businesses already are participating in a program that helps children and parents find healthy kids’ menu choices. This week, I caught up with the president of Healthy Dining, Anita Jones-Mueller, to talk about the Kids LiveWell program, led by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining.
Congratulations on expanding the Kids LiveWell program to many new restaurants since we last talked. How many restaurants are participating across the U.S.?
Together with the National Restaurant Association, we are thrilled to announce that we have more than tripled the number of restaurant companies participating in Kids LiveWell. The program now encompasses almost 70 restaurant brands and has grown to more than 20,000 locations across the U.S. It is very rewarding to work with these restaurants and hear their excitement for offering menu choices that nourish kids and help them to grow and thrive and be at their best. With every new restaurant joining the Kids LiveWell program, the industry is making a stronger impact for the health and well-being of our nation’s children and future generations.
Which restaurants or brands are really capitalizing on being part of the program?
Restaurants are able to capitalize through the Kids LiveWell program in many ways. First, parents can find the restaurants and their qualifying kids’ items on HealthyDiningFinder.com, and m.HealthyDiningFinder.com when mobile, making it easy for families to enjoy healthier options when eating out in their neighborhoods and when traveling. Second, the restaurants are promoted through collaborations such as CafeMom.com, other child and health-related sites and through the media. Third, most of the brands are adding this information on their websites, and a growing number of restaurants are printing the Kids LiveWell logo on their menus to make it easy for kids and parents to identify the qualifying choices. Some other interesting examples include:
- Chili’s Grill and Bar features a QR code on their kids’ menus that connects to a landing page showcasing Chili’s Kids LiveWell menu items and nutrition information.
- New Hampshire’s T-Bones and Cactus Jack’s promotes their qualifying kids’ choices on their menu and website. They also offer fun quizzes, tips and recipes for kids. “Chef Nicole,” a mom herself, has a passion for serving up healthier cuisine to her young guests.
- Silver Diner, in Rockville, Md., has a great selection of qualifying Kids LiveWell choices created by chef Ype Von Hengst, who is also very passionate about creating great-tasting, healthier cuisine for kids. Silver Diner has developed an “Eat Well, Do Well” program, which is promoted through local schools and contributes to the schools’ health and fitness initiatives.
Which menu items have given restaurants in this program the most surprise and success?
I have to say that the variety of menu items and the variety of restaurants have been a surprise, and a key to the success of the program. We have received many calls from restaurants, coast to coast, that hear about the program and want to join. So all types of restaurants are joining the program, from neighborhood eateries, coast to coast, to America’s favorite large chains. And, it is exciting to see the emerging creativity in the variety of menu items that qualify for the program.
One of my 10-year old daughter’s favorites is Outback Steakhouse’s Sirloin Medallions served with broccoli and 100% apple juice. I don’t serve meat at home very often, so my daughter loves that she can order this, and it is mom- and Kids LiveWell-approved! And I appreciate that it is a lean meat, a good source of protein and served with a healthy vegetable that she’ll eat.
A few other examples showcasing the variety of restaurants and items include:
- Red Brick Pizza: Cheese Pizza on Acai Berry Multigrain Crust with a Small Chinese Chicken Salad
- Washington Athletic Club in Seattle: Wild Alaskan Salmon with Brown Rice and Vegetables
- Tony Roma’s: Marinara Pasta with Citrus Apple Salad, Frozen Strawberry Yogurt and Broccoli
- Bardeney (locations in Idaho): Chipotle Chicken with Couscous and Orange Juice
Healthy Dining’s dietitians work with the restaurants to identify the items that meet the Kids LiveWell criteria. If restaurants don’t have the nutrition information, then our dietitians provide the nutrient analysis to validate the qualifying items.
Currently, we have about 35 restaurants that have completed the process and are offering the Kids LiveWell items. We have another 30-plus restaurants that we are working with to analyze and validate their menu choices.
What’s on the horizon for HealthyDiningFinder and Kids LiveWell in 2012?
We have an exciting 2012 planned! In just a few weeks, we will be launching an all-new HealthyDiningFinder.com site with a trendy look and feel, as well as greater functionality and enhanced site features. We are also adding scores of new restaurants that have recently joined the Healthy Dining Program such as Noodles & Co., Romano’s Macaroni Grill, BJ’s Restaurants, Elevation Burger, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and several others across the U.S.
We also have some new consumer-reaching partners this year that will offer participating restaurants some really great exposure and value-added opportunities. Later this year we will be providing a search platform for gluten-free and gluten-sensitive choices. And of course, we will continue to add new restaurants to the Kids LiveWell program. This is certainly a time when more and more restaurant guests are looking for healthy-dining menu choices, and our team loves to promote restaurants that are rising to that demand and offering choices with health, waistlines and taste in mind.