The world’s largest full-service restaurant company, Darden Restaurants, has agreed to offer fruit or vegetables as the default side option for every kids’ menu item.
The changes to kids menus should begin right away and should be fully implemented by next July, according to a White House news release.
First lady Michelle Obama joined Darden and Partnership for a Healthier America on Sept. 15 to announce what she called a breakthrough health and wellness commitment in the restaurant industry.
Darden’s brands include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze.
The firm is the world’s largest full-service restaurant company, operating 1,900 restaurants in 49 states and serving more than 400 million meals per year.
“This is absolutely fantastic that Darden is going to be offering a side of fruits or vegetables for kids meals,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “This will make a big difference, and they are showing that they are the leader among restaurants on this issue.”
Last September, the first lady spoke to the National Restaurant Association and encouraged foodservice operators to re-evaluate their menu offerings aimed at children.
DiSogra said the Darden announcement and McDonalds’ previously announced move to increase offerings of apple slices in Happy Meals indicates a positive change in the food environment for children when dining out.
In addition to its commitment on the kids’ menu, Darden said it will strive to reduce its calorie and sodium content in food. All Darden restaurants will work toward a 10% reduction in calories and sodium over the next five years and a 20% reduction in calories and sodium over 10 years.
“I’m here today because this is a breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry,” Obama said in the release.
“Darden is working to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and they’re making it the delicious and fun choice too. I’m confident that if companies like Darden continue to be creative and innovative and keep our kids’ best interests at heart then we will solve the challenge of childhood obesity and give all our kids the healthy futures they deserve.”