The Eat'n Park Hospitality Group launched LifeSmiles, a program that will invest in children's health and wellness initiatives in the communities the company serves. As part of the effort, the foodservice leader plans to invest $1 million and 20,000 volunteer hours to health and wellness initiatives over the next five years.
According to Brooks Broadhurst, senior vice president of food and beverage at Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, the LifeSmiles program builds upon First Lady Michelle Obama's “Let's Move!” campaign. The goals of LifeSmiles are aligned with the four pillars of “Let's Move!,” which will serve as a roadmap for the program's growth throughout the next five years. LifeSmiles seeks to empower parents and caregivers with choices; provide healthier food in schools through education and partnerships; provide access to healthy affordable food in under-served communities; and increase physical activity through community walks, runs, and events.
The core principles of LifeSmiles are rooted in Eat'n Park's existing commitment to health and wellness. Over the last several years, the Pittsburgh-based company has made substantial commitments to promoting healthy lifestyles. LifeSmiles will enhance existing programs like FarmSource, Eat'n Park Hospitality Group's buy local program, which since 2002 has allowed the company to serve fresh, local produce in season; and menu labels like "Eat'n Smart," which allow guests an easy way to identify menu items that meet their specific dietary requirements.
"We've always been committed to health and wellness initiatives, through the choices we offer our guests, as well as the events we support in the community," Broadhurst says. "Coupled with our existing programs, the new investment in LifeSmiles will help us fulfill a critical need in the communities we serve by giving families the resources and the knowledge they need to make healthier choices."
As part of the overall effort, Eat'n Park will seek out new, impactful partnerships that align with the goals of LifeSmiles. Most recently, the company partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank by donating $40,000 to help fund the Farm Stand Project. The Farm Stands serve 13 Pittsburgh neighborhoods by providing fresh, local produce in areas where it is not typically available. This program helped to provide access to healthy, affordable food in these under-served communities.
Former USDA Undersecretary of Agriculture Gus Schumacher, now an advocate for greater accessibility to healthy foods, took note of this partnership and commended Eat'n Park's "innovative efforts to fund links between local farmers and neighborhood Farm Stands in order to provide underserved neighborhoods with access to critically needed affordable healthy, fresh produce."
Perhaps the most visible components of LifeSmiles are new options for kids at the company's namesake Eat'n Park restaurants. Beginning on December 1, children age 10 and under can choose from a free traditional Smiley Cookie, a mini Smiley Cookie, or an apple with their meal. These new options will empower parents and caregivers with choices for their children.
Other LifeSmiles initiatives in 2011 will include a partnership with the Pittsburgh Children's Marathon to encourage physical activity as well as an increased partnership with Grow Pittsburgh to get Eat'n Park Hospitality Group chefs into local schools for fun, educational cooking demonstrations.
The LifeSmiles program is receiving accolades from leaders, like Sen. Robert P. Casey (D-PA), who is a member of the United State's Senate's Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and also of the Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and Family Farms.
"I am pleased that companies like Eat'n Park are recognizing the growing problem of childhood obesity and taking proactive steps to encourage healthier lifestyles among our children," Sen. Casey says. "By encouraging healthy food choices, physical activity, and greater access to affordable healthy food we can reverse the troubling trend of childhood obesity and instill in our youth the importance of good health for a lifetime."
The LifeSmiles program kicked-off at Pittsburgh Faison Primary School in Homewood, Pennsylvania, where third-graders were taught the Fable of Stone Soup and learned the importance of healthy foods prepared in fun, unique ways with the help of Grow Pittsburgh and Regis Holden, senior director of culinary services for Eat'n Park.