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Pioneer Editorial: Initiative creates some healthful choices for kids

Good news from the National Restaurant Association. Nineteen chains have pledged to begin offering meals that follow strict dietary guidelines. It's part of a new "Kids Live Well"?initiative of the restaurant association.

Of the 19 restaurant chains taking part, Burger King is the only one currently operating in the Bemidji area. We hope the positive publicity this program creates will prompt others to join in.

Of course, some Bemidji restaurants already offer healthful choices for kids. At Subway, for example, there are "Meal Builders for Kids coming in at under 400 calories. Good choices also can be found at non-chain restaurants.

"We've got to change consumer behaviors," says Dr. Robert Post, deputy director of the USDA?Center for Nutrition, Policy and Promotions. "We need to reach people where they ... make food decisions every day."

A kid's meal of entrée, side and drink must include two food groups while not exceeding 600 calories. a side of 200 calories or fewer must be one full serving of a fruit, vegetable, whole grain, lean protein or lower-fat dairy. Neither the entrée nor the side can exceed specified levels of sugar or sodium, or calories from total fat, saturated fat or trans fat.

For example, Burger King will offer a four-piece chicken tender meal with fat-free milk and BK Fresh Apple Fries. The meal has 350 total calories and includes one serving each of fruit and dairy.

International House of Pancakes will serve a scrambled egg and pancake meal with a side of fresh fruit totaling 260 calories.

The National Institute of Medicine estimates that 10 percent of infants and toddlers in the United States are overweight, and almost 20 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are overweight or obese.

Ype Von Hengst, executive chef and founder of the Silver Diner, a Rockville, Md.-based, chain, said the childhood obesity issue remains close to his heart.

"I feel strongly that kids are not born with chicken tenders in one hand and macaroni and cheese in the other," he said. "If that's all we're going to give them in the restaurants, that's all they will eat. We all have in the U.S. a moral obligation to give our kids better and healthier food. This is the first generation which won't live as long as we do. We want to give them healthy and local options."

Will children still clamor for burgers, fries and pop instead of the new menu items??Probably. Like their adult counterparts, kids have gotten used to fast food as we know it. But parents can control food choices of young children, and having choices like the new ones gives them some healthful options.