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Sysco Partners with NRA for Kids LiveWell

Sysco Shape July 2013

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) recently named Sysco the sole distribution partner of the Kids LiveWell program. Kids LiveWell is a nationwide effort to provide parents with a growing selection of healthful children’s menu choices by helping restaurants offer and promote these healthier foods on their menus. NRA launched the initiative in 2011; today, Kids LiveWell includes 135 restaurant brands representing more than 40,000 locations nationwide.

That’s a lot of kids’ meals. In its new role, Sysco creates innovative recipes and offers them to independent restaurant operators. The challenge of developing these recipes is twofold, says Lauryn K. Bennett, healthcare services specialist for Sysco. First, the full meal or side item must meet stringent nutritional guidelines and criteria outlined by the Kids LiveWell program. Second, the recipe must appeal to kids.

The nutritional guidelines go beyond avoiding deep fried foods and large amounts of sugar. The recipes meet criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the USDA Dietary Guidelines, and are validated by registered dietitians. Full kids’ meals must contain 600 or fewer calories, have less than 35 percent of calories from fat and less than 700 milligrams of sodium, and meet other criteria. There are also guidelines for side items, and specifics concerning dairy, proteins and whole grains.

So the foods must be healthful, and kids have to want to eat them. “Healthy recipes for kids don’t offer much benefit if kids aren’t inclined to try them,” Bennett says. Kids are finicky, she adds, but the current generation has a diverse, sophisticated palate. So they might try a new food under certain circumstances.

For example, kids appreciate the ability to customize meals to their liking. One current trend is giving kids variety and choice among healthy menu options. This could be as simple as offering different dips or various fruit toppings. “Provide them with a choice among fruit- or vegetable-based, low-sodium sauces and seasonings to complement a lean protein entrée,” Bennett says. “This entices the curiosity of all kinds of kids: those who prefer more spicy flavor accents and those who seek a more neutral flavor profile.”

Kids also like choice, so they might try new foods if the foods are presented in an innovative way. Bright colors are always a good idea, too. Offer water adorned with fresh fruit slices or seasonal berries, skim milk with a fun straw or 100 percent fruit juice. According to NRA research, low-fat milk is growing in popularity among limited-service operators, and they report that fruit or vegetable sides are gaining, too.

According to NRA research, healthful kids’ meals are the third top restaurant food trend in 2013 in both full-service and limited-service restaurant segments. Also, whole-grain items in kids’ meals ranked as the number 10 trend in the full-service segment. Try offering kids brown rice or quinoa as a side order, or whole grain waffles, pasta or pizza crust.

Contrary to the stereotype, some kids actually like fruits and vegetables. According to research conducted by the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), when asked about their kids’ favorite produce, moms mentioned apples, bananas and strawberries as their kids’ top three choices for fruits. Their favorite vegetables were carrots, corn, green beans and broccoli.

It also helps to have fun names for kids’ menu items. At the NRA show in May 2013, Chef Neil Doherty, senior director of culinary development at Sysco, prepared one of Sysco’s Kids LiveWell-approved recipes, the Pork Fiesta. The meal offers a fiesta of lean, tender pork, festive rice, flavorful veggies, and a myriad of Mexican spices and seasonings.

In addition to the party motif, other popular concepts for kids’ menu items include circus, sports, zoo and western themes. Older kids, hoping to feel more grown up, sometimes like to eat the same foods as their parents, so another alternative is to offer smaller plate versions of the regular healthy menu items. Those items might have to be reworded for the kids—think “fun” and “tasty” instead of “succulent” and “heirloom.”

“Make the food easy to handle, interactive and kid-friendly with fun shapes or flavorful dips, like you see in Bento box meals,” Bennett says. “Kids will feel encouraged to try new foods and to branch outside of their comfort zone, while still eating healthfully and pleasing their parents.”

Sysco developed additional recipes with its SHAPE Kids Healthy Recipe Contest in October 2012. The event featured recipes that were evaluated based on each dish’s taste and presentation, creativity and ease of preparation. The finalists had to impress a panel of 30 judges, all children age 6 to 12. The winners were Sea Fingers, Apple Slap Jacks with Fruit Leather and Clown Around Pizza.

The NRA launched Kids LiveWell in 2011 in collaboration with Healthy Dining to help restaurants highlight their better-for-you menu choices for children. Restaurants agree to offer and promote a selection of qualifying menu items. In return, they are mentioned on the Healthy Dining Finder’s Kids LiveWell website, and can use the Kids LiveWell icon on their menus.






Related Recipes:

Sea Fingers
Apple Slap Jacks with Fruit Leather
Clown Around Pizza