Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hey Kids! The White House Wants Better Menus for Little Diners

Want to see healthier options on kids’ menus at restaurants and tired of seeing nothing but chicken fingers, burgers and fries? Your concerns are part of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

In a detailed plan presented to President Barack Obama this month, more than 70 recommendations are outlined by task force members to help meet the goal of reducing the present childhood obesity rates of 20 percent to a level of 5 percent by 2030. Priorities include strategies to help empower parents and caregivers to guide children toward healthier food and fitness habits with specific suggestions on everything from building school gardens to adding neighborhood sidewalks to improving children’s menus at restaurants.

Recommendation from the task force document: Restaurants should consider their portion sizes, improve children’s menus and make healthy options the default choice whenever possible. The improvements are particularly important because one-third of meals are consumed in restaurants.

What do some Atlanta parents — who just happen to be in the restaurant business — think about “the state of the union” for kids dining out?

Father of a boy and girl, Ian Winslade, formerly of Spice Market and chef of soon-to-open Bottle Bar Buckhead, says, “I think restaurants need to do more with kids menus. And I found if you introduce kids as toddlers to a variety of foods, you’ll have a better go of it when dining out.”

Winslade admits that even chefs who make it a career to please customers’ palates can have a tough time with their own kids.

“At about 5 years old you can get some serious push back, but hang in there because after about 8 they roll back in and become more adventurous,” Winslade said.

Ford Fry, executive chef of JCT Kitchen and father of two boys, believes good eating embraces all foods in moderation. “Hey, I’m a chef famous for my fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, but our menu focuses on great farm fresh vegetables, too. At home we eat healthy six days a week and one day a week the boys can eat whatever they want,” he said.

And to up the ante on interest in healthy menu choices and further community support of farmers who grow organic produce for Atlanta’s restaurants, Fry and friends organize a vegetable festival each August — the JCT Killer Tomato Fest.

Selling good nutrition to kids takes on many forms. At Ted’s Montana Grill, cook Otto Calvert at the Luckie Street location says a restaurant can be the best place to get kids excited about healthy foods. “We start with lots of really fresh vegetables, and we know how to season them, and we don’t overcook them. We can help parents because kids eat their vegetables here when we ask them to!”

Catering to smaller appetites

Skip the sodas. Ask for low-fat or nonfat milk. Or make your own special “soda” by asking for a combination of fruit juice with sparkling water.

Good things in small packages. Children are not just small adults, especially when it comes to nutrition. Every bite counts and every bite should be delivering healthy nutrients. Filling up on tortilla chips or fried appetizers is a bad habit for two reasons: They’ll often consume too many calories and they won’t have room for the healthy items. Get a side order of fruit or cut-up vegetables right away to keep them occupied.

Don’t clean your plate. An important lessons in nutrition is recognizing when you are full.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn


Anonymous said...

Great post Carolyn. I love how you brought the First Lady's recommendations to life by showcasing what Atlanta-area restaurants and chefs are doing!

Carolyn O'Neil said...

Thanks Liz! Wow...I gotta comment!