Healthy Eating Habits Start Early Thanks to ‘Kids LiveWell,’ a National Restaurant Association Program

The National Restaurant Association (with the help of Healthy Dining) has kick-started a new program designed to foster healthier eating habits among children. The program is called “Kids LiveWell,” and through it, participating restaurant brands have agreed to make healthier meals and food items available on their kids’ menus.

When I was a kid, ordering a meal or item from a restaurant menu was a fairly simple process: if it looked appetizing in the picture, I ordered it. That was all. I wasn’t overly concerned about the nutritional value in what I was eating, and my parents weren’t all that apprehensive about my menu choices either. Looking back on it, I realize how spoiled I was to be able to make some of the indulgent menu choices I did.

NOTE: The Grand Slam was always one of them.

Things aren’t as simple for kids nowadays. Parents have become more watchful of their children’s eating habits, and the “point-to-the-food-you-want” menu mentality is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Modern-day parents have immediate access to the kind of nutritional information and dietary advice that moms and dads of yesteryear would never have dreamed possible. It makes sense then, that contemporary parents want their children (and their children’s children, and so on) to have a head start on a healthier lifestyle.

The “Kids LiveWell” program aims to help in this regard. Here’s a snippet from the official news release:

“‘Kids LiveWell’ underscores that restaurants can be part of the solution to ensuring a healthier generation and providing consumer choice in dining options,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “More than 15,000 restaurant locations are participating in this initial launch and offering their young guests a selection of Kids LiveWell choices, and we look forward to announcing additional restaurants and menu options in the coming months.”

Which restaurants have joined?

I’m as surprised as you are to find out that Outback has a “kid’s meal.”

So far, a total of 18 restaurant chains have joined the initiative: Burger King, Chili’s, IHOP, Outback Steakhouse, Denny’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack are among them. These branded eateries will be adding newer and more healthful meal choices and side dish selections for younger patrons. The new menu items will meet certain nutritional criteria set by the program.

What criteria might that be?

There’s definitely going to be an emphasis on more of the following: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and lower-fat dairy. Check out Healthy Dining’s Kids LiveWell criteria page for a full rundown of the nutritional standards that participating restaurants have to meet.

Produce to the rescue!

It’s all well and good to see such a large-scale initiative embraced by some of the biggest names in the restaurant industry, but whether this will pan out the way that the National Restaurant Association hopes is still anyone’s guess. Are parental concerns enough to compel more brands to jump on the bandwagon? Perhaps.

One thing’s for sure: change is on the horizon. Menu offerings were bound to become healthier sooner or later, and the “Kids LiveWell” program is bold a step in the “healthy” direction. With a little luck, we’ll see more restaurants adhering to the criteria outlined by the program. And with a lot of luck, we’ll see eating habits take a more nutritional turn in years to come.

Is Kids LiveWell on the right track for children’s health? Should restaurant brands offer something else to encourage healthy eating habits?

Images by: nutrition education, soeperbaby, and Joits.

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. Cybernetic SAM

    Hmmmmmmmm. Looks like I should have one of these diagrams on the fridge at home for you to look at. Note: Nowhere does it say Velveeta, beef jerky and soup are suitable meals. 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I just looked it up:

      The National Restaurant Association is amending their nutritional criteria to include large portions of Velveeta and beef jerky. 😉

      And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with soup.

  2. JPorretto

    Any step in the direction to fight Childhood obesity is A-OK with me. IMO, there’s no excuse on the parent’s part for a child to be severely overweight. Take the Bacon out of little Bobby’s hand and put a Carrot there. He’ll eat it when he gets hungry enough…

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Strong point, sir! Parents hate to admit it, but oftentimes, they’re the ones at fault. Kids need to be told early on what’s best for them.

  3. KB

    In order to get kids to LIKE healthy foods I believe it is essential to start them eating them at a very early age. My 2 1/2 year old son will most often choose the apple slices over the fries in is kids meals and loves his milk and juice since he’s never tasted a soda or sugary kids drink. Now we just need to get restaurants to lift the age requirements of these healthy meals since the “kids meal” portion size is what we should all be eating. 🙂

    • Jana Quinn

      THIS is the key. What is the incentive to stick with the healthier (and often less yummy) food when the child has something more appealing to compare it to? Until kids can pay for food themselves, they need to eat what’s put in front of them.

      Portion sizes are a whole other crazy discussion. Lauren and I ordered lunch portions at Cheesecake factory a few weeks ago that generously fed us each for three days. I can’t even imagine what the dinner portion is.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Good call…

      Conditioning plays a huge part. Proactive parents who keep their kids on a healthy diet have the right idea, as their kids will be more likely to STICK to a healthier diet as they grow up.

      • Amanda

        Agreed! You’ve got to get kids eating fruits and veggies at a very young age.

        I think a lot of the unhealthy eating habits come from school, and that’s unfortunate. When I was in grade school, kids thought it was uncool to eat veggies and would make fun of the kids who actually ate them. A lot of the school lunches are unhealthy to begin with. I think they’re starting to make changes there too though–thank goodness.

  4. amy

    Very interesting post Joe, I had no idea that this was happening.

    I was in the same boat with you, my parents didn’t care what I ordered (within reason, never had ice cream for dinner 🙁 ) as long as I ate it and finished it. It’s great that restaurants are making the effort, but it all comes back to the parents. They should set an example for their kids and order some more salads and fewer unhealthy items and this initiative wouldn’t be needed. Just my 2 cents.

    • Amanda

      I agree Amy! The restaurants can offer whatever foods they want–but it’s the parents decision what everyone orders. I think the more restaurants that offer options like this though, the more people will eventually start eating it.

    • Rachel

      The “as long as I ate it and finished it” aspect is interesting, too–I remember reading some study a long time ago (I wish I could find it again!) that kids who are taught to finish their plates actually eat more than they’re hungry for, leading to overeating. I know I was told as a child to eat everything on my plate, and now I still find it difficult sometimes to leave food on the plate even if I’m stuffed–so then I keep eating, rather than feel guilty about leaving food that’ll be wasted. I can only imagine that, as portion sizes get bigger and bigger, kids told to finish their plates simply eat more and more calories, no matter the type of food.

      A great post, Joe! Got me thinking 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      That’s a good way to put it. Had parents been doing their job, this initiative probably wouldn’t have been necessary. But seeing as how parents are becoming increasingly lax about their kids’ health, we’ll probably see more programs like “Kids Live Well” start to pop up in years to come.

  5. Jana Quinn

    Although I’m all about healthy eating and smart choices, it’s interesting to see so many restaurants sign up for this initiative. I wonder if there are additional incentive such as tax breaks for those who participate. It is undoubtedly more expensive to keep fresh fruit and veggies available than frozen patties and fries, so there’s got to be a catch somewhere.

    As much as I would love for this to succeed, those parents who already monitor their children’s health are going to be the ones participating; those kids are probably pretty healthy. The ones who are lazy and/or use food as bribery aren’t going to even blink at the healthy choices. The lazy ones might make an effort, but little Billy isn’t going to finish his homework for a carrot stick (despite the obvious metaphor).

    Who are these brands marketing to with this new plan? Are they marketing to the parents who are right at the cusp of being involved but haven’t been able to make the leap on their own? I hope the increase in customers walking through the door offsets the cost of keeping the fresh food around well enough that this endeavor succeeds.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “As much as I would love for this to succeed, those parents who already monitor their children’s health are going to be the ones participating”

      Sadly, you’re probably right about that. Parents who have grown accustomed to their own indifference toward healthier lifestyles might not be the first to jump on the nutritional bandwagon, and that’s putting it lightly. In truth, they may not care at all about newer, healthier menu items at restaurants. Kind of makes you feel sorry for the kids of those types of parents (i.e. Little Billy).

      Great point about the added costs of preserving fresh food. I doubt that there’s going to be any tax breaks though. Here’s the list of incentives (listed by the National Restaurant Association) for prospective restaurants looking join the Kids LiveWell initiative:

      1) “Placement on HealthyDiningFinder’s Kids LiveWell website”

      2) “Promotion of the Kids LiveWell program by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining”

      3) “An icon that can be used on menus to indicate healthier choice”

  6. Vern-Matic

    I find it kinda funny that some of the participating restaurants in this are being predicted that won’t last the decade

  7. Amanda

    Very interesting post Joe! I think the restaurants are doing a good job with this new program. And really, it’s all they can do. They can’t force people to order a healthy option….they can only offer them-which is the first step.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Very true! At least they’re making healthier options available. I suppose it’s all up to parents from here.

  8. Jen

    I agree with the majority, it’s up to the parent to control what his/her child is eating. Don’t blame the restaurant for offering yummy food to enjoy occasionally. Blame yourself for letting your kid eat it for dinner 7 nights a week because he/she throws a fit and you give in.

    Some parents just need to grow a back bone and show the kid who’s boss.

    Great Post Joe!

  9. Jenna

    I agree with what everyone else has said here. Sure, this is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t matter how many healthy options they offer. If the parents still give in and order the french fries anyway because their kid starts crying…then this program is essentially pointless. BUT hopefully this will push parents in the right direction.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      We can only hope. But you’re right — at the end of the day, good parenting is what it takes to keep kids on the right track.

  10. Amanda

    I was thinking about this again….and I thought–I wonder if restaurants like these could just change the way some food is prepared, instead of swapping out things (like apples instead of fries–even though I like the addition of apples). Potatoes are veggies and have a lot of nutrients in them so maybe they could bake the fries instead of deep frying them, or use 95% lean beef instead of the fatty beef they use now, etc. Things like that can make a big difference. =) Just a new thought.

    • Jill Tooley

      That’s a good idea, Amanda! Even baked potatoes (minus all of the sour cream and junk toppings) are better for you than french fries. They could probably do a lot more to curb these issues, but sometimes I wonder if it’ll ever actually happen…

  11. Jill Tooley

    Great post! I was unaware of this program until now, but it seems like the best initiative that’s come along in awhile. By making healthier options available for kids (AND adults), it ups the chance that they’ll actually eat them. I think that restaurants need to start taking this a step further with their advertisements: they should replace some of those images of quadruple-cheeseburgers and chili-fries with healthier looking food. It’s tough to go into a restaurant and choose a nutritious option when you’re bombarded (and salivating) from the fat-ridden food pics plastered all over the menus and the walls!

    And while I agree that a child’s eating habits are firmly rooted in parents’ choices, it’s not entirely their fault if kids go a bit off course as they get older. It’s tough to make good eating choices as a kid, especially if there’s pressure in the lunchroom. As someone else mentioned, who wants to be the only kid eating a salad and carrot sticks when the majority of classmates are gorging on junk food? I got made fun of all the time for being a vegetarian and the other kids looked at me like I was a freak for eating fruits and veggies. Hopefully this mentality will change as time passes (and as our nation becomes more and more at risk for obesity and health problems).

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