First Lady Supports Healthy-Eating Initiative At The Olive Garden And Other Restaurants
The Orlando, FL-based Darden Restaurants company -- which owns such well-known restaurants as Red Lobster, the Olive Garden as well as the regional favorites Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze -- has been inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama to join her campaign against childhood obesity. To show their dedication to the cause, Darden has sworn to begin reducing the sodium and overall calories in their restaurants' regular meals, and also to overhaul the children's menus. The Darden restaurants are known to serve over 400,000,000 meals every year throughout their nearly 2,000 locations across the country.
Describing the initiative as the restaurant industry's most comprehensive commitment to health and wellness, Darden's President and COO Drew Masden pledged to lower the sodium and calories in all their meals over the next five years by 10%, with a goal of a total reduction of 20% at the end of ten years. In the case of the children's meals, such things as sugar-sweetened drinks and French fries will only be available by special request. Their meals will also include a side dish of fruit and/or vegetables as well as an eight-ounce glass of skim milk, unless an adult specifically requests otherwise. At the moment, neither Seasons 52 nor The Capital Grille offer kids' meals at all.
The Darden pledge is part of a larger movement by the food industry to provide healthier food. For example, since early 2011 chains such as IHOP, Burger King, McDonald's and Friendly's have been announcing they will be switching out the French fries typically found in their kids' meals with vegetables or fruit, and they also intend to remove potentially tempting pictures of their unhealthier dishes from menus.
Patrons are also becoming more conscious of their health and are demanding improvements to the fare, such as being prepared with less salt and no butter, or at the very least, to not be fried.
Ms. Obama's campaign to lower obesity rates in children is a response to statistics showing that one in three American children is either obese or overweight, which makes them more vulnerable to such health hazards as heart disease and diabetes. The First Lady has stated that she believes the key to helping today's youth to become healthy adults is by encouraging them to exercise and to develop healthy eating habits while they're young.
During a 2010 speech delivered to the National Restaurant Association, Ms. Obama implored its members to step up and take their part in promoting healthy habits and nutritious food to the nation's children. She cited statistics showing that the average consumer will spend at least half of their food budget on meals eaten outside their homes, and that one third of those meals are eaten at sit-down restaurants.