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Darden Restaurants Joins Forces with the First Lady's Campaign to Reduce Childhood Obesity

Darden brands Red Lobster and Olive Garden make a pact to decrease sodium and calories on their menus


This week, First Lady Michelle Obama continued on her path to eradicate childhood obesity in America when she joined forces with the world’s largest full-service restaurant chain, Darden Restaurants, and nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America. With Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze, Darden operates 1,900 restaurants and serves over 400 million meals a year. Now with Obama on its side, Darden could be the first restaurant chain to truly make a huge difference in the fight against childhood obesity.

Obama laid out her plan to reduce calories and sodium on the restaurants' menus by 10 percent between now and 2016 and by 20 percent by 2021. The main focus is to reduce the health risks on kids’ menus but also to completely overhaul the full-menu of the aforementioned restaurants. On the kids' menus, a choice of fries will be eliminated to be replaced with the option of fresh fruits and veggies. For beverages, one percent milk will replace soda, which won’t even be on the kids' menus anymore.

With Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, she’s made strides with her cause célèbre. The organization tries to eliminate food deserts and to provide healthier foods in school lunches. It’s a cause worth fighting for since one in three kids are obese and run the dangers of being the first generation who might have a shorter lifespan than their mom and dads.

Glancing at Olive Garden’s kids menu, currently they don’t even offer fries but instead sides like grapes, broccoli and mashed potatoes. On Olive Garden's regular menu, entrees like Tour of Italy exceeds the daily allowance of sodium, so until the restaurant modifies their sodium servings, it’s best to avoid it. 

At Red Lobster, 1 percent milk is only 110 calories compared with their Banana Bay Chocolate smoothie (460 calories), juice (140 calories) and kids portion fries (300 calories). On the contrary, Red Lobster’s already kind of healthy with all of their fish offerings and their Lighthouse menu featuring fish entrees 500 calories and under, but wouldn’t it be great if everything on their menu came close to that?

It’s comforting knowing Obama and team are working on it, though. 

by: Garin Pirnia