According to Project EAT, a University of Minnesota study, 51 percent of families surveyed reported eating fast food as a family meal at least one to two times a week. Seven percent reported eating fast food for dinner three to four times a week. How do you make the healthy choice the desirable choice when dining out in a sea of half pounder Angus burgers topped with double cheese and bacon, golden French fries and creamy frozen ice cream beverages?
Restaurant and Institutions Magazines predicted that creating healthier children’s menus would be on many fast food chains “to do” list for 2013, and they were right. This fall, McDonald’s partnered with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association back in 2005 to combat childhood obesity. McDonald’s made a commitment to modify their menu and use their marketing power to promote healthier behaviors in children and families in the following 3 ways:
- All customers including mom and dad can swap out those golden, crispy, hot French fries for a side salad, fruit or vegetable in value meals.
- Advertisements for the Happy Meal will only promote water, milk and juice as the beverage of choice.
- All Happy Meal box messaging and advertising in general will include well-being messages including good nutrition.
This is great because a parent has to intentionally make the swap back to fries and a soda or milkshake and hopefully at some sub conscious level consider the health implications of doing so. There’s a great ad campaign right now in Grand Rapids, Michigan on billboards and the sides of buses that reads “Eat more fruits and veggies and your kids will too. They learn by watching you.” You can’t expect Johnny to be happy with his milk and apple slices if you’re knee deep sipping sugar-rich soda, creamy ice cream concoctions and salty, deep fried potatoes.
Panera and Chipotle restaurants were earlier adopters of fresh, healthy options for family meals. Panera serves antibiotic free-range chicken as well as organic kids meals that include the option of squeezable organic yogurt, apples or a French baguette. They eliminated trans fat from their menu even at the expense of dismissing a few favorites because a trans-fat free alternative wasn’t available. Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” program supports:
- Animals raised without antibiotics or added hormones whenever possible
- Antibiotic and hormone free milk
- Environmentally friendly practices
- The farmer, how he or she farms the land and treats the livestock
It’s clearly apparent in the Panera and Chipotle kid’s meals how creatively healthy a break from the traditional fast food meal can be!
Five days ago, Chipotle announced that they would remove genetically modified organisms (GMOs) ingredients in 2014 and their stock prices soared by more than 15 percent. Yes they do plan a 3-5% increase in pricing to account for the change but it’s worth the price. The concentration of pesticide, herbicides, GMO’s and other additives by body weight that children of today consume is significantly greater than what our adult bodies will ever be exposed to over a lifetime and I applaud companies that help reduce this exposure!
We aren’t asking fast food companies to throw out the fryers and serve tofu with a side of kale chips, but we are asking them to become more socially accountable when it comes to the health of our communities.