WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday highlighted a move by Darden Restaurants--which operates Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze--to sign a "a binding, legal agreement" to cut calories, offer healthier fruit and vegetable side dishes, reduce sodium and give free refills of one percent milk to kids.
The announcement was the latest deal signed by the Partnership for a Healthier America, the non-profit created to operate Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity drive.
Mrs. Obama lauded the chain for serving "healthier side dishes" as the standard on kids meals. So if "you don't choose anything, you get the broccoli," she said. Fries would come only on request.
She said that "often parents assume" that a kids menu is healthy and "too often that is simply not the case."
Mrs. Obama--apparently trying to avoid any labeling of this latest "Let's Move" program as part of a food police agenda-- said she was not "telling parents what to do" but was asking them to take "responsibility."
"Nothing wrong with occasionally splurging on sweets and deserts....I splurge!," she said. Mrs. Obama has never cast herself as a purist when it comes to eating, instead urging moderation and balance when it comes to treats.
Mrs. Obama traveled to the Washington suburb of Hyattsville, Md., for the announcement at an Olive Garden restaurant. Last July, Mrs. Obama gathered executives of Walgreen, Wal-Mart and other big retail chains to announce a promise to open more stores to reduce "food deserts," areas considered under-served by food stores.
She was joined by Drew Madsen, the president and chief operating officer of Darden in unveiling the revamped kids's menus--to start right away and be phased in by July 2012--and other changes, to be part of a five-and-ten-year plan for the 1,900 restaurants in 49 states Darden operates.
From Darden: "Darden is committing to reduce its calorie and sodium footprints, and to provide greater choice and variety to families through changes to its kids' menus. Across the entire Darden portfolio of brands, the company is working toward a 10 percent reduction of calories and sodium over five years and a 20 percent reduction in calories and sodium over 10 years. On kids' menus, fruits or vegetables will become the default side option and 1-percent milk will be the default beverage choice with free refills. Changes to the kids' menus are starting now and will be fully implemented by next July.
Here are specifics on the Darden committment:
Partnership for a Healthier America secured the following commitments and will be working with Darden to evaluate and monitor their progress with these efforts.
Kids' Menus - changes starting now and to be fully implemented by July 2012
· Guarantee a fruit or vegetable will be the default side for every kids' menu item at those restaurants offering a default side on the children's menu: Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster.
· 1% milk will be the default beverage, provided automatically if no alternate beverage is requested. Milk will be prominently promoted on the menu and made available with free refills.
· Food illustrations on the menu will promote the healthy choices for meals and drinks.
· Healthier menu options will be more prominently displayed when possible.
· Carbonated beverages will not be displayed on children's menus.
· Improve the nutritional content of one or more children's menu items to provide equal or less than 600 calories, 30% of total calories from fat, 10% of total calories from saturated fat, and 600 mg of sodium.
Calories/Sodium Footprint Reduction - changes to be implemented by 2016 and 2021
· By 2016, reduce calories by 10% and over a ten-year period by 20%.
· By 2016, reduce sodium by 10% and over a ten-year period by 20%.