Restaurants adding healthier kids meals

Dad Days of Summer: While Momania’s Theresa Walsh Giarrusso takes a vacation, local dad and sportswriter Andy Johnston will be filling in. You can e-mail him at

Ty has never liked to eat meat.

Andy and his son Ty.

Andy and his son Ty.

We didn’t intend for that to happen. We tried to feed him that so-called meat in a jar when he was a baby, but he’d just turn away. Even then, he knew that stuff was nasty.

It probably tastes like some of that stuff they make on “Chopped.”

Now that he’s 5, Ty still likes healthier kinds of foods.

He prefers fruit to fries, yogurt to hot dogs and hummus to hamburgers. Yeah, I don’t get that one, either, but I think it’s because he was born in Athens (Georgia, not Greece).

He’ll eat chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s, but that’s about it as far as meat goes.

Like most kids, he still wants – and sometimes gets – cookies or popsicles or ice cream and Capri Sun, but often he’s content with grapes, apples, bananas and milk or water.

Feeding him while we’re out to eat has never been a huge problem because we often just take a lunchbox packed with his favorite foods.

So it might suit Ty that more than 15,000 restaurants are on board with the National Restaurant Association’s new “Kids LiveWell” program. The list includes Outback, Chili’s, Burger King – surprising since it sells something called the Triple Stacker covered in Stacker sauce – Cracker Barrel and IHOP.

Those places will now feature healthier alternatives on kids menus, including fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

The meals will have 600 calories or less and consist of two or more food groups.

 Now the tough part: Getting your kids to eat it.

What do you think about this plan?

Will you feel better about taking your kids out to eat?

Do you take food from home for your kids to eat when you go out?

- By Andy Johnston, for the Momania blog

28 comments Add your comment


July 14th, 2011
1:14 pm

600 calories seems like a pretty high limit in a healthy kids meal. I would guess that’s in the ballpark of a regular old Happy Meal with fries and soda at McD’s. And what meal doesn’t have at least two food groups? A hamburger has both meat and bread. Promise instead that every meal will include a non-fried, non-potato veggie, and I’ll be impressed. The criteria for particating in the program makes this look more like a marketing scam to me than a real effort to serve healthier food — it’ll be interesting to see how many participating restaurants offer many truly healthy kid options.


July 14th, 2011
2:00 pm

I am always intrigued at what people eat, based on economics and regional availability. It also amazes me when parents wrinkle their noses and say, ” I don’t like that, so you won’t either.”

In our area, there ARE lots of families who eat out all week long. I cannot figure out how they afford it! We did not eat out as much when our kids were small.

Wish we could take food from home :). Now that our kids are both back home, we are cutting back on eating out. It was a bargain with just the two of us and BOGO, while they were at college. We could manage on $20-$25 with a tip too. Now, it is never less than $50 even with a coupon. OUCH.

My son did not like hamburgers as a boy…I thought it was nuts! He did come around. He never really ate many veggies either, except corn. As an adult, he now eats all sorts of different things. He loves Sushi and that is not something we ate with our crew. Our daughter is all about food and we have enjoyed having her cook various dishes while she has been home from college.

My sister and I mentioned last week that we could go the rest of our lives without eating a french fry.
It seems most kids adore them. Will they give them up for something healthy?

Not trying to hijack the blog but this might be related and I am curious as to the other reader’s ideas about this controversy:


July 14th, 2011
2:04 pm

Sounds like more of a marketing deal. McDonald’s has been offering healthier selections (apples) for a few years and they’ve always offered milk. But how many parents take advantage of it? And further, how many of these obese kids are eating out 7 days a week? It simply adds up. A Happy Meal one a month with fries and a soda isn’t going to make a kid obese if he/she is eating healthy meals at home.


July 14th, 2011
2:22 pm

It does sound like a marketing plan. I’d love to see healthy menus — period. For every overweight child there is at least one overweight parent. But, I don’t blame restaurants. If people didn’t buy the product they wouldn’t be selling it.

The responsiblity for eating healthy lies with the individuals and the parents. Stop supersizing everything! No one needs a 48 oz soda. I get disgusted by the portions I see people consuming.

MJG – very interesting article. Thank you for sharing.


July 14th, 2011
2:22 pm

@MJG – what is your opinion on the controversy?


July 14th, 2011
2:35 pm

Personally, I’d like them to start putting the nutrition info on the menu (for the adult meals too). I know when I go out it’s bad for me, but when I go onto some of these restaurants websites to look up the nutrition info, I’m shocked at just how bad!!

As for the kids meals, I’m all for adding healthier options, if only to have MORE options. Most places have a very limited kids menu, and just how many hamburgers is a kid supposed to eat before they get sick of them.


July 14th, 2011
2:41 pm

The girl would just as soon eat a salad as to have a burger anyday..Neither one of them are big on fries and usually ask for the apples that go with Happy Meals..The boy always eats just the burger, no bread..

No, we don’t take food from home and we never have, when babies, they ate whatever we ate..Even now at 9, sometimes the boy and Poppy will order one plate and share..

I don’t worry that much about going out to eat as far as what they eat, nowadays it the cost to feed them..Both when they do order, order off of the adult menu now..

@MJG..We tend to eat out more when it’s this hot..I do not cook unless it can go in the microwave..When we eat at home during the summer, we eat a lot of salads and cold food…


July 14th, 2011
2:51 pm

I wish there was no age limit on ordering of the kids’ menu. What if that is all I want to eat? I do think offering something more than macaroni and cheese on a kids’ menu is a good idea. Then again, I don’t think mac and cheese is a meal by itself so I’m already looking for the main part of the meal.

Can you get these alternative sides with adult meals? If not, why not?


July 14th, 2011
3:01 pm

Denise, I always order the kids meal and they have never said anything about it.

Doom and Gloom

July 14th, 2011
3:09 pm

I just ate the XXL burrito from taco bell, it was nothing more than a grilled stuffed burrito… Major Disappointment!!!!


July 14th, 2011
3:15 pm

I can understand the concern for eating healthy, but I honestly don’t feel it’s the restaurants’ responsibilty to make our kids eat right. This is only an issue because parents don’t or can’t cook anymore so they want to eat out more now than ever before and then they complain that their kids aren’t eating healthy because of the restaurants. Stop being lazy and making excuses and cook. I know it’s a two income home for most families but that’s not an excuse. For most of my childhood both my parents worked but my mother still found a way to make sure that we weren’t eating junk food everyday.


July 14th, 2011
3:52 pm

@Lori..Just wondering, how old are you r kids? As I said, my two just turned 9 nad they both order off of the adult menu now.. They have very sledom ordered off of the kids menu even when they were younger..As I mentioned earlier, when they were younger, we would order and they would eat off of our plates..

@Denise..When I go out to eat with my sister, they always let us order off of the kids menu..If for whatever reason, they won’t, we jsut order one meal and share it..Not sure if this would work for you..:~)


July 14th, 2011
4:02 pm

@jmb – when I’m in the drive thru and only want a little bit I do order off the kids’ menu but in restaurants it annoys me that they tell me I can’t because I’m (obviously) over 10 or 12.

@Becky – normally, I will take home half but sometimes what you get in a restaurant isn’t good microwaved and I end up taking it home and being mad that it doesn’t taste as good as it did the first time. :-) What I LOVE is that at Copeland’s (one of my not-really-guilty pleasures) has small plates. If I know I’m going to Copeland’s I usually “save up” so I can eat a full meal (can’t pass up the sweet potatoes) but I like the option of the small plates.

On topic – no, it is not the restaurant’s responsibility to make healthy decisions but in order to stay in business, especially with so much attention being put on childhood obesity, restaurants need to respond by making healthy options available. Is this only marketing? Possibly. Will parents still let their kids eat fries instead of apples? Sure. Will it be the parents’ fault? Of course. But restaurants build up “goodwill” by responding to the national crisis du jour (which is real, of course) and getting on the “good boy and girl list” and parents can take advantage. Win-win.


July 14th, 2011
4:04 pm

@Becky – my kids usually still eat off the kids meal when we got out because I couldn’t afford to take them with us if they wanted to eat regular meals. Even the kids meals are creeping up in price overall. If they are still hungry after eating a kids meal, they are welcome to spend their own money on an extra side or to eat something small when we get home. My oldest has just recently started crossing the line over to regular adult meals and it has seriously affected our bill. Fortunately, I can get by with a kids meal so we do that sometimes.

@Denise – I always order kids meals at fast food restaurants. The only time I had any push-back on it, I just ordered it to go then carried my bag over to a table and ate there. Sit-down ones are iffy. It depends on the place and the staff. Sometimes you can get them to give you a lunch portion at dinner instead. It’s too bad you have to wait until you are 55 or older to get the senior portions which are often much more reasonable sized meals.


July 14th, 2011
4:14 pm

Denise, fast food places will usually let you order kids’ meals, but I think the reason sit-down restaurants often have age limits is because for the restaurant, the food is the cheapest part of the meal. They need to pull in a certain amount of money per sit-down experience to cover the non-food costs. If kids order a discounted meal, it’s ok for them cost-wise because the parents are ordering their own meals that are profitable. If adults without kids order discounted meals, though, the restaurant loses money on that table. That’s why supersizing became popular to begin with. Customers feel like they are getting a better deal if they can get twice as much for an additional $.39 or receive huge portions at the Cheesecake Factory, and from the restaurant’s point of view, it costs very little to pile extra food on the plate but takes almost no extra time/cost to prepare, serve, etc.


July 14th, 2011
4:34 pm

@penguimom..I understand that..That is where the ordering one adult meal and sharing comes in..I will order something that me and one of them will eat,Poppy will do the same..This seems to work for me in that I tend to not eat as much..

I know that this won’t work for everyone with kids, but my two don’t eat a lot of the typical “kid” foods..Because they have been eating what is considered mostly adult food since they were 2, it works really good for us..I can take them to Bay Breeze, order one plate that has popcorn shrimp, fried talipia(sp), baked potato and salad ($9.95) and all three of us can eat off of that with plenty to take home ot the hubby..


July 14th, 2011
4:43 pm

@ Momsrule….I am typically against government intervention but when I see a 3 year old walking around with a bottle full of Coke or Sweet Tea, as in a baby bottle, then I wonder if there needs to be a license to parent :>/.

RE: sharing plates….when we go to a nicer restaurant, we sometimes order an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert and split it. Although, some places charge a split plate fee and then we will not do it. We are happy to share one plate and not pay $4 for the entree to be split into two plates.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

July 14th, 2011
5:00 pm

If you walk into McD’s, BK, Wendy’s with the intention of ordering food, you’ve already lost the “I want to eat healthy” battle.

No one can tell me that when you think to yourself “I want something healthy for lunch” you think of a fast food joint, so let’s just throw out the premise that is a real concern of yours when you go there. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s convenient, and the kids bug you to go there for the toys, but to say that you are concerned about nutrition for that meal and you go anyway is laughable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against them, but on the rare instances that I frequent them with or without my kid, it’s basically because we’ve taken the position that for whatever reason, nutrition is thrown out the window for that meal and get whatever you want. And I really don’t believe that Chili’s, Outback, etc are any better. The meals in and of themselves may be, but the portions are still enormous so it’s half a dozen of one, six of another.

So to answer the questions….

What do you think about this plan? Great marketing…futile action.

Will you feel better about taking your kids out to eat? Not nutritionally.


July 14th, 2011
5:01 pm

And I thought my daughter was strange. She, too, will only eat nuggets from Chick-fil-a or (Old) McDonald’s. Can’t blame her (on the Micky D’s thing, not Chick-fil-a…..which should be registered as a national treasure).


July 14th, 2011
5:09 pm

I feel concern when I see families eating so much junky food, either at the drive through or in their grocery cart. So much pre-packaged food!

Go for low-tech, low processed, raw or steamed food and not so much meat!


July 14th, 2011
5:26 pm

@HB, I understand WHY they don’t want my old self ordering from the kids’ menu…I just want my way! :-)

@Tiger, I agree that I never go to McD thinking nutritious…I’m thinking delicious…or what used to be delicious. Now I think “thank goodness this is on the way because I ain’t cooking JACK tonight”. I can see the effects of my too-many-fast-food-nights on my waistline so I can only imagine how it affects kids. I love junk food but I love “real” food more and I start feeling bad when I eat too much of the junk…and I start looking bad too. I will be one of the parents that will have to WORK on making sure my kids don’t have bad eating habits. Maybe I will be better when I have people counting on me to cook and provide for them but there are times when the cupboard is bare and I’m in between trips to the grocery store when I am in trouble.


July 14th, 2011
5:53 pm

Fair enough! :)


July 14th, 2011
6:17 pm

If I had a choice between Mc D and a PBJ, the PBJ will always win. I might eat there 3 times per YEAR and if so, it is only for breakfast. I do like Wendy’s and love ChikfilA…yum on the diet lemonade and carrot raisin salad. I feel sorry for those who do not have it in their area and I miss it when I am out of town! We went to Panera today and I love their salads, soups and sandwiches!
I rarely see kids in there. They have a combo for under $7 and you could probably share that with a child.


July 14th, 2011
6:46 pm

This is about parent responsibility. Restaurants have been offering healthier choices for a while now. Wendy’s has the mandarin oranges, McDonald’s has the apples and so does Burger King. Parents are feeding their kids junk all the time. I keep fruit in my house. This means I have to go to the grocery store a couple of times a week, but I don’t mind. My son hates vegetables. He will only eat corn. I figure when he gets older his taste will change. I hated tomatoes as a kid but love them now. In the end, parents are making their kids fatter, not the restaurants. Time for these obese parents to make better decisions for their kids.


July 14th, 2011
7:59 pm

i cant believe no one has mentioned subway here. they have a fresh fit kids meal that is great . my girls would rather have subway than a burger any day. the plus is they also have healthy adult meals as well , and none of the burger places offer so many options for fresh veggies. oh and the price is great for the budget.


July 14th, 2011
8:49 pm

I think restaurants are smart to offer healthier choices. Even if it is a marketing ploy, well, that’s why they are in business. It’s not their responsibility to keep you or your kids healthy. Obviously people are making healthier choices and restaurants are seeing this and providing what people want.
I have a serious problem with the governement trying to regulate what is served and how it is prepared. I can think of two recent examples. Some law (I think in NY) that would regulate how much salt can be added to restaurant meals and the San Fransisco thing about banning Happy Meal toys. These things make me crazy.
I agree that there is not much you can do to make fast food heathy. I figure I must be doing a good job in this dept. b/c I LOVE fast food and my kids hate it. (with the exception of Chick-fil-a which I don’t consider “real” fast food – I don’t care what my husband says).
Whatever the restaurants do, we will still go out as a family on Saturday nights. My kids are still young enough to get kids meals or we share meals. My kids tend to choose healthy options. They don’t like fries but prefer rice or pasta. They would rather have fish and chicken baked or broiled instead of fried. I do a little happy dance whenever they order healthy because I was the WORST eater ever as child. I never ate a vegetable until I was 25 (not exagerating). Despite the obvious problem in our society with obesity, most people I know try to make healthy choices for themselves and their children.


July 15th, 2011
7:28 am


Question for a westerner regarding Subway:

In my trips out west, and specifically Colorado, Subway rules the roost.
Is it true that many, if not all, of the small, funky-cool Colorado towns actually forbid McD, Burger K, KFC, etc… to open shop in their fair town, in favor of Subway, because the Subway model is better suited fast food for the outdoor, healthier way of life?
I have been through many of these towns and it does seem that Subway is your only fast-food franchise choice.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

July 15th, 2011
10:49 am

@shaggy….I haven’t heard too much on the small towns forbidding the fast food joints…we certainly have our fair share in the larger places….but seeing how Colorado was just rated the LEAST obese state in the nation, my guess would be that collectively, the residents of this state just may choose different options that make subways more popular than the other places. I know we love our pizza joints and chipotles and microbreweries, so it’s not like we’re saints!