Michelle Obama Touts Healthier Chain-Restaurant Menus

First lady Michelle Obama today praised a move by Darden Restaurants, the operator of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze to cut calories and sodium in its meals and offer healthier options for children, calling it a “breakthrough moment” for the restaurant industry.

“Darden is doing what no restaurant company has done before,” Obama said at an event at a Maryland Olive Garden. “They’re not just making their kids’ menus healthier so that parents have more choices and more control; they’re making changes across their full menu at every single one of their restaurants throughout the country.  They’re looking at all the food they serve, and they’re asking themselves one simple question:  How can we improve the health of American families?”

Working with the Partnership for a Healthier America, the nonprofit that oversees the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, Darden has committed to reducing calories and sodium in its meals by 10 percent in the next five years and by 20 percent in the next 10.

In addition, fruits and vegetables will become the default side option on kids’ menus, replacing the ever-present French fries. Sugary sodas will also be absent from the menus going forward. Instead, 1 percent milk will be the default beverage, with free refills, of course. Menus will also be revamped to promote the healthier choices.

Noting that Americans spend half of their food dollars at sit-down or fast-food restaurants, Obama said she can sympathize with busy families who want to eat right but just don’t have the time.

“I know the feeling because I’ve been there,” she said. ”I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that we lived in a regular house.  We didn’t always live in the White House.  And it wasn’t that long ago that Barack and I were struggling just like most families to try to keep it all together.  Our girls always had busy schedules, like many of you.  They did then; they do now.  And there were plenty of times that things like cleaning and grocery shopping and cooking fell by the wayside.”

But too often, she said, kids’ meals in particular are loaded with far too many calories. “Instead of targeting the most healthy food to our kids, we’re targeting the least healthy food to our kids.  And parents need to feel confident that enjoying a meal at a restaurant doesn’t mean sacrificing their children’s health,” the first lady said. 

“So the bottom line is that Darden is making the healthy choice the easy choice.  And they’re making it the delicious and fun choice, too,” she said.

Orlando-based Darden is the world’s largest full-service restaurant company and owns and operates more than 1,900 restaurants that generate more than $7.5 billion in annual sales.

The first lady also had some lunch at the Olive Garden today, sampling the apricot chicken and asparagus, which she said was “awesome,” but also “healthy.”

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