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First Lady Michelle Obama: "Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice"

Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the blog.

As part of the Let's Move! initiative, yesterday morning First Lady Michelle Obama joined Partnership for a Healthier America, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other family chains owned by Darden Restaurants to announce a commitment from Darden to reduce calories and sodium in their meals and to provide healthier options in their kids’ menus.

In America today, one of every two dollars spent on food is spent in restaurants, and over one-third of calories consumed in America are eaten at restaurants, so providing nutritious choices in restaurants goes a long way in keeping families healthy. At an Olive Garden in Hyattsville, Maryland, the First Lady explained the significance of this announcement:

Often, parents assume that when a restaurant offers a separate kids’ menu that the food on that menu will actually be good for their kids.  They assume that the portion sizes will be reasonable.  They assume that the food will be just as nutritious as food that they prepare for their kids at home.

But too often, that’s simply not the case.  Research has shown that meals kids eat at restaurants have nearly twice the calories as meals they have at home.  And for some options on kids’ menus, they have more than 1,000 calories.  One thousand calories -- that’s approaching the recommended daily amount of [calories] that you guys should be eating, right? 

So too often, instead of targeting the most healthy food to our kids, we’re targeting the least healthy food to our kids.  And parents need to feel confident that enjoying a meal at a restaurant doesn’t mean sacrificing their children’s health. 

Yesterday's announcement is just one step in the challenge to fight childhood obesity. The First Lady called on others to help the movement:

Even small changes -- things like offering kids 100 percent fruit juice, or water or skim milk instead of sugary drinks, or maybe giving people the option of having their food baked rather than fried, these are the kind of small changes that can really add up.  

So I hope that the people who are watching this announcement, particularly restaurants and other companies across the country, will see this and step up in the coming months in the same way that Darden has.

But I also hope that parents watching this will keep speaking up and keep demanding healthy options for their kids. 

Here's the breakdown of kids’ menu changes starting now and to be fully implemented by July 2012:

  • Guarantee a fruit or vegetable will be the default side for every kids’ menu item at those restaurants offering a default side on the children’s menu:  Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster.
  • 1% milk will be the default beverage, provided automatically if no alternate beverage is requested.  Milk will be prominently promoted on the menu and made available with free refills. 
  • Food illustrations on the menu will promote the healthy choices for meals and drinks.
  • Healthier menu options will be more prominently displayed when possible.
  • Carbonated beverages will not be displayed on children’s menus.
  • Improve the nutritional content of one or more children’s menu items to provide equal or less than 600 calories, 30% of total calories from fat, 10% of total calories from saturated fat and 600 mg of sodium.