Industry News | May 23, 2011

LIVE: Making Healthy Kids' Meals Doesn't Have to Be Hard

Three prominent dieticians told a crowd at the 2011 NRA Show in Chicago that foodservice operators have many opportunities to help combat the growing childhood obesity epidemic.

Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living for the NRA; Judith Rodriguez, president of the American Dietetic Association; and Amy Myrdal Miller, program director for strategic initiatives for the Culinary Institute of America, spoke at the education session “Addressing Childhood Obesity: New Restaurant Industry Opportunities” on Sunday.

The dieticians all believe that operators can help children eat healthier through education and creative product innovation.

The education element, Dubost says, is necessary because much of the public does not understand how to adopt a healthy diet.

“Consumers are confused about calories,” she says. “They can’t tell you how many calories they need on a daily basis, and many of them can’t tell you what calories do.”

The nutritionists recommend being transparent on the nutritional content of all kids' menu items, putting healthier menu items front and center at the point of purchase, and even helping the young customers understand the proper amount of calories they should eat in a day. 

Product innovation, meanwhile, has been hard for some foodservice companies because there is common belief among operators and consumers alike that "healthy" means "less tasty," the dieticians say.

But, they say, there are easy ways to roll out healthy kids' menu items that are also packed with flavor. 

Myrdal Miller says global menu items give operators a golden opportunity, as kids' palates have become more mature. 

“People want diversity, and young people are seeking a culinary adventure on their plate," she says. 

Items like sushi, chaat, and prosecco sauce for dipping are all valid healthy menu items that kids would like, Myrdal Miller says. But, she adds, giving the items new names--like "sweet potato fries" for chaat or "Spanish ketchup" for prosecco sauce--is helpful to encourage kids to try them.

“You’ve got to make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar," she says.

Helping combat childhood obesity is not just smart for the health of the country, the experts say, but also for operations’ bottom lines. Dubost cites a study from whymomsrule.com stating that 70 percent of mothers want increased availability of healthy kids items on restaurant menus.

But making kids' menus healthier does not have to be a daunting task. 

“Sometimes they can be elaborate solutions, but if you think about them creatively you can really make them quite simple," Rodriguez says.

The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show is the restaurant industry's largest trade show. It takes place in Chicago's McCormick Place until Tuesday, May 24.

For more information, visit QSR at booth #4861.

By Sam Oches

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