WASHINGTON – The National Restaurant Association has launched its “Kids LiveWell” program, which is designed to offer parents and children a wider choice of healthy menu selections while dining out. More than 15,000 restaurants plan to participate in the voluntary program.

Nineteen chains have signed on to “Kids LiveWell” so far, the NRA said. They are Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Chevys, Chili’s, Corner Bakery Café, Cracker Barrel Denny’s, El Pollo Loco, Friendly’s, IHOP, Joe’s Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery and zpizza.

“’Kids LiveWell’ underscores that restaurants can be part of the solution to ensuring a healthier generation and providing consumer choice in dining,” said Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and chief executive.

Restaurants that want to sign on to the program are expected to offer and promote a variety of menu selections that meet criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines, the NRA said.

To participate, restaurants must agree to:

• Offer a children’s meal containing an entrée, side dish and beverage with 600 calories or less; two servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; with limits on sodium, fats and sugar.
• Offer at least one other individual item containing 200 calories or less, with limits on fats, sugars and sodium, plus contain a serving of fruit, vegetables, who grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy.
• Display or make available on request the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options.
• Promote or identify the healthful menu selections.

Dr. Robert C. Post, deputy director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, called the program “a great start to help empower consumers — kids and parents especially — with more healthier choices at restaurants.

“This could provide a great push toward more healthier offerings at restaurants,” he said. “We hope this is a trend toward new items and voluntary reformulations in reducing food components and nutrients that pose health concerns.”