Healthy flavors, healthy kids: "The Biggest Loser," updating kids' menus and LA's fight for healthy menus

Parents don't think restaurants are committed to making kids' menus healthier.

Earlier this month I spent three days in San Antonio attending the CIA’s Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids conference. Now in its second year, the conference brings together leaders from all aspects of child nutrition to discuss the growing childhood obesity epidemic and ways to combat that trend.

It’s a pretty lofty goal, one that Amy Myrdal Miller, R.D., director of programs & culinary nutrition, strategic initiatives for the CIA, says makes this conference her toughest one to coordinate by far. There are just so many different players in the equation, she admits. Further complicating the issue are the USDA’s new meal regulations. Myrdal Miller says the conference took those rules into account by focusing on culinary sessions demonstrating ways to incorporate the new vegetable sub groups, particularly leafy green vegetables.  

New to this year’s conference were roundtable discussions focusing on topics such as using USDA Foods to create healthful, flavorful foods for school meals and participating in farm-to-school programs.

Here’s some highlights from the conference:

  • Cheryl Forberg, R.D., spoke about the 12 years she spent as the nutritionist with “The Biggest Loser.” Forberg said she saw similarities between the show’s overweight contestants, including not eating enough fruit and veggies, not drinking enough water and not eating the right types of fats. Forberg said she worked with the contestants to ensure they were eating their calories and not drinking them, a problem many were faced with.
  • Maeve Webster, director of research and consulting for Datassential, shared results from the company’s research on children’s menus. Overall, parents said it was more important to offer healthier items on kids’ menus than did restaurants. Seventy-four percent of parents said this was important, while 54% of full-service restaurants and 50% of limited-service restaurants said it was important. Parents also said they didn’t think restaurants were doing a good job menuing healthier items. Thirty-eight percent of parents said restaurants having done anything innovative when it came to healthy kids’ options and 42% believed restaurants weren’t serious about offering healthy items for kids. However, 44% of restaurants said they have made some kind of change to their kids’ menus in the last six months.
  • Another interesting revelation was that 40% of parents said they were more likely to order entrées off the main menu for their kids instead of ordering from the kids’ menu. Webster said this posed problems because children were being served larger portions, so it was imperative to teach those kids about proper portion sizes. The fastest growing items on kids’ menus aren’t surprising, with fries, chicken strips and macaroni and cheese as the top three. When restaurants add healthier kids’ options, all-natural items is growing by 77%, sweet potatoes by 67%, edamame by 49% and hummus by 41%.
  • David Binkle, deputy director for LAUSD, shared his work revamping the district’s menus to be healthier. People say kids don’t like math, but we still teach students math, Binkle said. We should do the same with healthy eating. Before a new item is placed on the menu it is tested more than 30,000 times, he added.

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