Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kids' stuff. And lots of it.

While Muffy and Scooter learn their isotopes at physics camp, restaurants are rethinking how to deal with the little dears and their schoolyard posse.

Recent days brought two major industry initiatives for bolstering school-aged patrons’ health.

Meanwhile, mom packs are forming in the blogosphere to shame a restaurant that decided it’d rather not risk the time-out behavior of bad boys and girls. McDain’s is banning all pint-sizers under age 6 from its dining room. You’d think from the reaction that the Pittsburgh-area establishment had suggested the tots be banished to Devil’s Island with nothing but a sharp knife.

Clearly, kids are in the foodservice spotlight, for better or worse. It’s no surprise, given how exalted they are in general society. The trophy industry must be going gangbusters now that hardware is bestowed on any tyke who’s a part of a team, class, playgroup or other social unit. If they show up, the big brass is theirs.

Along with the pampering comes a degree of protection that falls just short of a mandatory bubble-wrapping of any nippers who ventures outside their child-proofed home. That’s why we have a mother in Arizona who visited the playgrounds of 50 fast-food restaurants to video unsafe situations or to swap hard surfaces for bacteria. (In her defense, she found plenty.)

It’s also why a cross-agency federal task force has suggested that food sellers voluntarily meet certain nutrition standards for any product they advertise to youngsters.

Ironically, that effort came to light just as the restaurant industry was finalizing a program to offer more healthful choices to kids. The Kids Live Well initiative, officially announced today, will spotlight menus with better-for-you options for children. Nineteen chains representing some 15,000 establishments have already signed on for the program, a collaboration of the National Restaurant Association and the operator of

The unveiling came six days after the Culinary Institute of America went live with Menu for Healthy Kids, a website that provides recipes for schools and other operations that’d like to offer more nutritional kids’ fare. It also provides statistics on the issue of childhood obesity.

Those may be the big tidal developments in regard to healthier dining by children. But there are countless small developments.

Consider, for instance, that Olive Garden just changed its serving standards. Instead of giving youngsters French fries, they’ll now get grapes. In place of milkshakes, they’ll now sip fruit smoothies.

At the very least, that sort of effort deserves a trophy.

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