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Chefs Value Healthy Kids in 2011

In the Fire

While most parents would agree it's important to feed kids healthy food, many find it hard to stick to this goal in the face of time constraints, stress and limited choices. Fast food is easy and makes most kids happy (and quiet). Let's face it, if left to their own devices, many kids often gravitate toward sweet, salty, and fried foods. Fortunately, there are tangible signs that the culinary arts world is starting to focus on children's nutrition.

A trend of healthy cooking for kids

Since her inauguration as First Lady in 2008, Michelle Obama has fought childhood obesity through successful programs like "Chefs Move to Schools" that have attracted the commitment of chefs across the country. And when the National Restaurant Association released its What's Hot in 2011 survey, many parents were relieved to learn that restaurant chefs in 2010 predicted children's nutrition will be one of the top 20 trends this year. As if to prove it, the Food Network's hit show Secrets of a Restaurant Chef aired an episode hosted by top chef Anne Burrell called "The Secret to a Healthy Children's Menu," showcasing healthy takes on traditional kids' recipes like dijon, saltine and wheat germ crusted chicken fingers with ranch dipping sauce.

Ideas for chefs and parents

Recognizing the need to educate chefs and parents about children's nutrition, Livestrong.com, the website representing the Livestrong Foundation (created by super athlete Lance Armstrong), offers advice about what to put on kids' menus. In addition to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein options, it also suggests cutting out soda with its high sugar and sodium levels in favor of milk, water and 100% juice.

Other ideas from Livestrong.com include offering grilled rather than fried fish and chicken, and veggies and fruits as side dishes in addition to the usual fries. Lastly, it suggests that chefs forgo putting sugary syrups and high fat ingredients in smoothies, a popular choice among children, and offers ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

Regardless of what restaurants offer, it may be hard for kids who are used to eating sugary, salty and fried foods to adjust to healthier choices, as taste bud preferences tend to develop in the first few years of life. But with enough repetition (and hunger!) kids can definitely make the change if parents are willing to stick to restaurants that are committed to offering healthy food.

Advice for parents seeking healthy restaurant food

Parents looking for eating establishments with healthy kids menus can turn to agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both offer suggestions for restaurants with the healthiest choices, and how to navigate fast food menus to find the best options for kids.

Parents can also steer their kids in the right direction by eating well themselves and by encouraging kids to help with planning, shopping for and cooking meals at home. Children imitate their parents, and become more invested in what they're eating when they're part of the process. The bottom line is that kids are more likely to make healthy choices at restaurants if they're eating well at home.

Chefs expand their education at culinary school

Chefs that want to offer healthier foods can learn more by taking some traditional or online culinary classes. Natural foods, nutrition, menu planning and pricing are some of the subjects taught by culinary schools to help more chefs get on board with this vital and growing trend.

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