Beginning today, kids will find some cool new choices on their restaurant menus - choices that will make their parents happy, too.
More than 15,000 restaurants in the USA representing 19 chains, including Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Chili's, Denny's and IHOP, are participating in a voluntary new initiative called Kids LiveWell.
It's being unveiled today by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining, the company that runs healthydiningfinder.com.
Many meals that fit into the program will carry an icon of a red apple.
They must include an entre, side dish and beverage and contain 600 calories or less, plus meet other nutritional criteria.
Some meals that meet the guidelines:
•Burger King's breakfast muffin sandwich with fresh apple fries (slices) and fat-free milk.
•Corner Bakery Cafe's half turkey sandwich served on harvest bread, with a side of baby carrots, fruit medley and low-fat milk.
•Cracker Barrel's kids' chicken n' dumplings with organic apple juice.
These and other meals "meet the gold standard in terms of nutritional content," says Anita Jones-Mueller, founder of Healthy Dining.
"Kids can eat french fries, hamburgers and fried foods some of the time when they are eating out, but not all the time."
Some restaurants have only a couple of kids' meals that meet the criteria now, but they are working on developing more, Jones-Mueller says.
Dawn Sweeney, president of the National Restaurant Association, says the group is planning to expand the program to thousands more restaurants in the coming weeks.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says offering healthier kids' meals at restaurants is important because children are getting about a third of their calories from eating out, and eating out is a big contributor to obesity.
"Kids' meals have become synonymous with junk. They are usually a hamburger, a slice of pizza or fried chicken tenders with a side of french fries and a soda. We need to get to the point that the kids' meals are the healthiest meals, because kids are growing and developing and forming eating habits that are going to affect their health for the rest of their lives."
Find Kids LiveWell meals on healthydiningfinder.com.
"This is an exciting beginning for parents who eat out a lot. This is opening the door to much healthier cuisine.
"This (program) is just going to make it easier to eat healthy when you eat out, and for those of us who eat out a lot that's an important for living a healthy lifestyle," she says.
"Almost every restaurant we talked moved very quickly to identify foods that meet the criteria, and some modified their menu items to meet the nutrient guidelines," Jones-Mueller says.
The meals that qualify were reviewed by a team of registered dietitians from Healthy Dining.
Restaurants can get kids excited about eating healthfully, and letting them enjoy the fresh, healthful taste of foods.
Among the restaurant chains participating in the Kids LiveWell program:
•Au Bon Pain
•Carrabba's Italian Grill
•Chili's Grill & Bar Restaurant
•Corner Bakery Cafe
•El Pollo Loco
•Joe's Crab Shack