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Some restaurant chains plan to make kids menus healthier

At least 19 restaurant chains said they're adding healthier items on their children's menus.

July 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Beyond the burgers, nuggets and pizza, parents will soon have healthier choices when taking their kids out to eat.

The National Restaurant Association and 19 restaurant chains have teamed up for healthier changes. It's a new trend that has many health experts smiling.

"I am so happy to hear this because you know what, exposure equals preference, choice means preference," said nutritionist J.J. Virgin.

Virgin is referring to the new "Kids LiveWell" program offered at 19 fast food and fast-casual chains with over 15,000 locations.

"It's a partnership between the restaurant association and healthy dining to give parents the option to look for healthy food for their children," said George Healy, El Pollo Loco franchise manager.

Healy says to be part of the program a restaurant must offer:

  • At least one kids menu item that is 600 calories.

  • It is designed to increase consumption of produce, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

  • It has at least one side dish, 200 calories or less, with the same nutrition requirements.

El Pollo loco offers ala carte beans, veggies, and chicken to add to their kids choices. And Chili's, for example, will highlight a chicken sandwich with a side of pineapple or mandarin oranges on their kids' menu.

It's a nice idea because at many restaurants, cost-conscious parents often had to choose regular menu items often at a higher price to give kids nutrition.

"It's made to order so they can make, for example, if you want a burrito, no cheese, light, however they want it," said El Pollo Loco General Manager Freddy Pinuelas.

Along with El Pollo Loco and Chili's, Burger King, Denny's and IHOP are also on board.

Sometimes you might have to work a little harder on what you want. For example El Pollo Loco has nutrition facts available, but you're not going to see it on the kids menu on the big board.

But no excuses, they're still there when requested. And that seems to appeal to 5-year-old Francesca Paz, who says she likes the carrots and broccoli.

"You can't go wrong," said Pinuelas. "If it tastes good and you're eating healthy, it's a win-win situation."

Participating restaurants are: Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Chevys, Chili's, Corner Bakery Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, El Pollo Loco, Friendly's, IHOP, Joe's Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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