Tim York's Centerplate
( Markon Cooperative )

My daughter’s family was recently visiting me for a week, and we had dinner on Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif. 

My grandson ordered chicken fingers and had the option of fries, fruit or broccoli as a side. Without even looking at his mom, he asked if the broccoli was cooked. He was told “yes,” and so he ordered broccoli. This produce man is one proud grandpa! 

My family and yours are busier than ever, making that drive-through down the street appealing. In fact, one-third of kids and more than 40% of teens eat fast-food each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the face of it, that’s a discouraging number, but things are looking up. 

McDonalds and Wendy’s now offer apple slices or mandarin oranges with kids’ meals. Arby’s, KFC and Burger King offer applesauce, while Chick-fil-A offers grilled chicken nuggets instead of deep fried. A new California law goes one step further. 

The Healthy-By-Default Kids’ Meal Drinks bill (SB 1192), which will go into effect in January, focuses on what many public health advocates have warned against: sugary beverages. The new law makes a healthy beverage — water, sparkling water, flavored water with no added sweeteners, or milk — the default beverage for children’s meals at restaurants. Parents still have choice and can select soft drinks or other beverages upon request.

Voluntary efforts are growing as well. The American Restaurant Association developed its Kids LiveWell program, a voluntary effort to help parents and children select healthful menu options while dining out. 

More than 42,000 restaurants nationwide participate, which is still a low number given that Datassential reports there are 648,000 restaurants in the U.S. And the Produce Marketing Association has joined the Partnership for a Healthier America and Sesame Workshop on an Eat Brighter! campaign to encourage children age 2-5 to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Growers, distributors and operators alike can all be part of the solution.

Rich Dachman, vice president of produce for Sysco, is a great example. 

Dachman currently serves on the board of directors for Brighter Bites, an organization that is committed to changing eating habits in underserved communities through education and increased access to fruits and vegetables.

Since its inception, Brighter Bites has delivered more than 18 million pounds of fresh produce to some 250,000 people. 

And while not all produce grower/shippers can play such an active role as Dachman, everyone in produce can do their part by bringing to market healthy fruits and vegetables with kid appeal. Whether it’s developing kid-friendly packaging or providing operators serving suggestions with kids in mind, the produce industry can play a positive role in shaping healthier kids’ meal options. 

Just imagine if my grandson was joined by kids across the nation in selecting broccoli over fries — now that would be something we can all be proud of! 

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative. E-mail him at timy@markon.com.