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Dine out together

Putting healthy choices on the kids menu

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Young families dine out frequently and children enjoy having a menu just for them. But when you think about a traditional kids’ menu — mac-and-cheese, fried mozzarella sticks, hot dogs, and grilled cheese — it won’t win any nutrition awards.

Research suggests parents desire healthier options for their children. So can restaurants help stem our childhood obesity epidemic and otherwise help our youngsters eat better?

The National Restaurant Association says “yes.” It partnered with nutrition website HealthyDiningFinder.com to create the Kids LiveWell program, which set standards for healthier kids’ menu items for both chain and independent restaurants.

“Kids LiveWell is about making the healthful choice the easier choice. It’s for providing, not just healthful options, but different options that children will love,” explains National Restaurant Association director of nutrition Joy Dubost, PhD, RD. She points to sliders made from bison meat, tasty pasta dishes, and grilled chicken with dipping sauces. “We’re really beginning to diversify what’s offered for children.”

The standards are based on leading health organizati­ons’ scientific recommendations, such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for children under age 12. Fresh fruit and vegetables are emphasized. Entrees are limited to 600 calories, no more than 35 percent of which can be from fat.

Practicality was also considered.

“We reached out to registered dietitians who work in the restaurant industry to see if the criteria are doable,” said Dubost. Finally, taste was paramount.

“We want to make sure the items have good taste profiles,” she said. “If the kids don’t eat it, it won’t work.”

Kids LiveWell launched in July 2011 with 19 restaurants. Now more than 100 brands are participating with almost 30,000 locations, including a large number of independent eateries.

An app for that

The Association’s What’s Hot in 2012 survey of 1,800 chefs from the Culinary Federation was eye opening. Chefs named healthful kids’ meals third out of 220 trends.

“Consumers are demanding them, and the restaurants are responding,” explained Dubost.

Dubost pointed to the new free Kids LiveWell app (which is geo-coded) for Android and iPhone devices.

“Parents can quickly look on the app, and see what restaurants provide those healthier choices.”

Healthy Dining has a mobile website, which will know your location and can give you options based on that. Restaurant operators list healthy options right on the menu, on their websites, or print the information right in the restaurant.

Healthier breakfasts

Luckily, it’s easier than before to find healthful menu choices for children, even if the restaurant at which you’re eating is not a Kids LiveWell participant. Try:

• Waffles or pancakes with fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, or applesauce and a just touch of syrup.

• A scrambled egg with whole-wheat toast and two strips of bacon. Ask for fruit instead of hash brown potatoes.

• A veggie omelet for which your child picks the vegetables.

Healthier lunches and dinners

• Look beyond the children’s menu. An adult appetizer often works well as your child’s entree. Examples include flatbread pizza, shrimp cocktail, tapas, or soup. Or split a healthful adult entree with your child.

• Ask for sauce or dressing on the side.

• If your child prefers a grilled cheese, hot dog, or even the chicken nuggets, balance it out with an order of steamed broccoli, fruit cup, or other side dish.

If your favorite restaurant has not yet joined Kids LiveWell, you can suggest it joins the program.

“We’re really trying to grow the brand,” says Dubost. “Ask for a Kids LiveWell meal.”

Christine M. Palumbo is a registered dietitian in Naperville, Ill. and an adjunct faculty member of Benedictine University. Follow her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition, on Twitter @PalumboRD or Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com.

Roasted tomato, three-bean, and mushroom soup

This is a quick, tasty, and hydrating meal. Use low-sodium tomatoes and beans to decrease the sodium content in this dish.

PREP TIME: 10 minutes

COOKING TIME: 30 minutes

Makes four servings (serving size one cup)


3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup onions, minced

1 cup white or baby bella mushrooms, sliced

2 (15–oz.) cans diced tomatoes, fire-roasted

2 cups cold water

3 to 4 leaves dark green cabbage or kale, shredded roughly

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced

1 cup cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large stock pot over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for one minute. Add onions and heat through until translucent or clear. Add mushrooms and saute together. Add tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer; add rosemary and stir. Add shredded cabbage or kale leaves to soup. Partially cover the pot and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, or until cabbage or kale is tender. Drain and rinse beans, add to soup, and warm through for a few minutes. Taste to see if you need salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle each with a touch of olive oil. Serve with crusty whole-grain bread, if desired.

NUTRITION FACTS: 309 calories, 11 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 g cholesterol, 600 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 12 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 14 g protein, 24 percent DV iron.

Recipe courtesy of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods by Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN.

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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