November 02, 2021

National Restaurant Association Launches Kids LiveWell 2.0

The program showcases dietitian-approved, better-for-you menu options for children at participating restaurants
Washington, D.C. – The National Restaurant Association today unveiled a major modernization of its Kids LiveWellSM initiative that makes it easier for caregivers and children to choose ‘better-for-you’ meals when dining out. The program, originally launched in 2011, is a successful industry solution to providing a wider range of menu options for families. This update brings the Kids LiveWell participation requirements in line with today’s nutrition science.

“For nearly a decade, chefs have identified ‘kids nutrition’ in the top 20 food trends annually, underscoring the importance of our youngest patrons and the choices their parents are seeking from restaurants,” said Marvin Irby, Interim President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “As the industry continues to learn more about nutrition, we’re proud to offer this updated initiative to reflect the industry’s increasing health standards and ensure that caregivers can be confident Kids LiveWell menu options are delicious and nutritious.”

Restaurant operators with qualifying meals and sides certified by Kids LiveWell are validated by an approved third-party registered dietitian. Menu items that are certified to meet the Kids LiveWell criteria will help caregivers increase a child’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy while limiting unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Key updates to the Kids LiveWell certifying criteria include:
  • Expanding the number of certified menu items: The program now requires that two meals and two sides are certified to meet the Kids LiveWell criteria.
  • Adding a default beverage policy: A default beverage policy for the kid’s menu can only include water, low-fat or non-fat milk, or 100% fruit or vegetable juice.
  • Eliminating artificial trans fats: Following the FDA ban on artificial trans fats, industrially produced trans fat is no longer allowed in Kids LiveWell meals.
  • Removing fat calorie allowance: Along with removing trans fat allowances, the updated program no longer assesses total fat calories, but continues to limit calories from saturated fat.
  • Change to added sugar criterion: The new program no longer focuses on calories from total sugar and instead shifts to limits on added sugars.
  • Reduced sodium threshold: The new criteria lowers the sodium threshold for both meals and sides in an effort to reduce sodium by 10% in response to public health recommendations.
  • Changing the type of dairy products allowed: The new default beverage menu includes 1% and non-fat milk varieties only, following public health recommendations.
“Nutrition science has changed in the last 10 years, so we worked with the Association and restaurant representatives to identify the needed and impactful changes that should be made to bring the program up-to-date,” said Maggie Gentile, MS, RD, LD, vice president of food and nutrition policy at Food Directions. “We also worked in collaboration with public health and consumer advocates to ensure the more stringent program aligns with the latest edition of the USDA and HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The food-based requirements and nutrient thresholds also closely align with the criteria for the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).”

Nearly 13,000 restaurants across the country have Kids LiveWell approved menu items. Restaurants with meals and sides certified in the original program must have any existing meals re-certified by Jan. 1, 2022.

“The Association is invested in helping the industry find solutions to issues related to health and nutrition,” Irby said. “Caregivers and children are more educated than ever about the food they choose for their lifestyles. So, we hope that restaurants of all sizes find value in participating in this free program and look forward to expanding its reach.”

Caregivers with more questions about the Kids LiveWell updates will find answers here and restaurants wanting to find out how to get certified will find all the information they need here.

Praise for Kid LiveWell:

Chef Stephen Bulgarelli, chef culinary officer of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar:
“Applebee’s is proud to support the National Restaurant Association and Kids LiveWell 2.0. All Applebee’s menus include meals that fall within the Association’s guidelines to provide healthy options for parents to choose for their children.”

Andrea Cherng, chief brand officer, Panda Express:
“At Panda Express, we strive to give guests the bold American Chinese flavors they’ve come to love, while making it easy for them to create a balanced plate that offers nutritious vegetables and quality proteins. That is why we wholeheartedly support the nutrition science approach of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program. Its mission is to assist families in making better choices when dining out, and we are thrilled to have our new Panda Cub Meals be a part of this important effort.”

Kathy Higgins, chief executive officer, Alliance for a Healthier Generation:
“The Alliance for a Healthier Generation applauds the National Restaurant Association and its members for expanding the Kids LiveWell program and taking additional steps to increase the visibility of ‘better-for-you’ options. This type of commitment and effort is critical to making the systemic shifts that are needed to ensure that children and families have a chance to live healthier lives.”

Sara Ribakove, senior policy associate, Center for Science in the Public Interest:
“Families want healthier options for their kids when they dine out. The updates to the Kids LiveWell program can help to drive change towards healthier kids’ meals and increase awareness of healthy options at a greater number of restaurants. The shift to requiring healthier default beverages for all participating restaurants and strengthening the nutrition criteria reflects progress towards creating a healthier food environment for kids.”

Nancy E. Roman, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America:
“Covid-19 underscored the importance of food in building health. So, there is no better time for the restaurant industry to focus on the health of their offerings. Refreshing the Kids LiveWell program is an important step."

Steve Sturm, executive chef, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill:
“We are proud to be a part of the Kids LiveWell story and their continued effort in prompting healthier menu options that ultimately help parents feel confident in their kids’ food choices.”

Ype Von Hengst, vice president, culinary operations, Silver Diner:
“Silver Diner and its brands have been long-time supporters of healthy eating for kids and families. The restaurant has served as a national model for innovation in healthy eating. Throughout our initiatives, we have been supporters of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program. We’re excited to continue to support this worthwhile program.”

Margo G. Wootan, president, MXG Strategies; adjunct faculty, American University, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Health Studies:
“We hope the updated Kids LiveWell criteria will encourage all restaurants to make healthier beverages the default with children’s meals and drop soda, lemonade and other sugary drinks from kids’ menus. The Kids LiveWell updates acknowledge that a healthy meal should include a vegetable or fruit and that 1% or fat-free milk should replace varieties high in saturated fat (i.e., whole and 2%).

“A national poll reveals that over 80% of parents want restaurants to increase healthy options and decrease unhealthy items on children’s menus. The experiences of restaurants that have shifted to healthier food and beverage items show that families want healthy options for their kids and that they’re good for business.

“We’re pleased that the National Restaurant Association has updated its Kids LiveWell program. Since children get a quarter of their calories from eating out, all restaurants should make the children’s menu healthy to support children and their parents.”

About the National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which comprises 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of 15.6 million employees. We represent the industry in Washington, D.C., and advocate on its behalf. We sponsor the industry's largest trade show (National Restaurant Association Show); leading food safety training and certification program (ServSafe); unique career-building high school program (the NRAEF's ProStart). For more information, visit Restaurant.org and find us on Twitter @WeRRestaurants, Facebook and YouTube.