HYATTSVILLE, Md. (CBS4) – First Lady Michelle Obama has taken another step forward in her campaign against childhood obesity and it will affect the food you eat at some South Florida restaurants.
Encouraged by Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce childhood obesity, the Florida company that owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and four other popular restaurant chains has pledged to cut the calories and sodium in its meals and overhaul its kids' fare.
Michelle Obama said the pledge to serve healthier meals is a "breakthrough moment" for the restaurant industry.
Darden Restaurants Inc. unveiled the changes Thursday, with the first lady on hand to lend support.
The company said it will reduce the calories and sodium in all its meals by 10 percent over five years, and by 20 percent over 10 years. For children, French fries and sugar-sweetened beverages will become the exception and not the rule.
All kids' meals will automatically come with a side of fruit or vegetables and eight ounces of 1 percent milk unless an adult requests a substitute.
"With this new commitment, Darden is doing what no restaurant company has done before," said the first lady, who joined executives of Orlando-based Darden for the announcement at an Olive Garden restaurant in suburban Maryland, just outside Washington.
"This is a breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry. I believe the changes that Darden will make could impact the health and well-being of an entire generation of young people," added Mrs. Obama, who is leading an effort to reduce U.S. childhood obesity rates.
Darden's restaurants serve more than 400 million meals annually at more than 1,900 locations nationwide. Its four other restaurant chains are LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. The Capital Grille and Seasons 52 do not have children's menus.
Darden's promise is part of a trend by the restaurant industry to serve healthier food.
The kids' menu changes are scheduled to take effect next July.
Since the beginning of the year, McDonald's, Burger King, Chili's, IHOP, Friendly's and more than a dozen other large and small chains have said they will begin replacing the French fries in children's meals with fruit and removing enticing pictures of less healthy items from their menus.
Diners have become more health conscious and are asking for improvements, such as for their meals to be cooked without butter or with less salt or to be prepared any way but fried. Then there's Mrs. Obama's campaign to bring down childhood obesity rates.
One in three U.S. children is overweight or obese, putting them at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease or other health conditions. Mrs. Obama has said she wants to help today's youngsters become adults at a healthy weight by eating better and getting more exercise.
In a speech a year ago to the National Restaurant Association, the first lady asked members to "actively promote healthy foods and healthy habits to our kids." Consumers, she said, spend half their food dollars on meals outside the home and eat one in three meals at a restaurant. She suggested serving low-fat milk and healthy sides like apple slices or carrots and making French fries available only upon request.
White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said Darden's announcement amounts to a "full-throated endorsement" of the types of changes Mrs. Obama has asked the nation's restaurant owners and operators to make.
In a National Restaurant Association survey of chefs, two-thirds of those working in the kitchens of family dining, fine dining and fast-food restaurants said their customers were ordering healthier items and paying more attention to nutritional content than they did two years ago.
Similarly, chefs ranked healthful children's meals as the fourth-hottest restaurant trend, behind locally grown and sustainable foods.
The government soon will begin requiring restaurants with 20 or more locations, along with bakeries, grocery stores, convenience stores and coffee chains, to include clear calorie counts on their menus.
(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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