The other day I was driving in the car with my 5 year old and 7 year old daughters. My 7 year old, a self-proclaimed vegetarian, asked me what hot dogs were made of, which led to a discussion of not only hot dogs, but also chicken nuggets. Afterwards my daughter said, “If I ate meat and found out how hot dogs and chicken nuggets were made, I’d want to stop eating meat”. How do you not love that?! I drove the last few moments home with an ear-to-ear grin, beaming with pride.
Because I am meat-free and dairy-free, as well as health-conscious, and my 7 year old is vegetarian, I try to make everything at home from scratch. The thought of eating at a restaurant that could meet all of our needs sounds very enticing (not to mention that I don’t have to cook or clean up). But finding that restaurant can be a bit elusive. So when I was asked to review a website that promised healthy choices when dining out, I jumped at the opportunity.
Healthy means different things to different people. For some it’s low-calorie or low-fat, for some it’s lean protein and for some it’s vegetarian or vegan. The Kids Live Well website, a project of the National Restaurant Association, offers a selection of restaurants that have joined the project, which offer healthy choices for kids, and which have met nutritional criteria overseen by a team of registered dietitians. Kids’ meals that meet the criteria must be below a specified level of calories, calories from fat, calories from sugars, and sodium. Only menu items that meet the criteria are included on the website. The website generally does not indicate whether or not options are vegetarian. Some of the restaurants that were identified as serving healthy choices didn’t offer any vegetarian or vegan choices, and the ones that did were limited to a single vegetarian meal. Most offered at least a fruit or vegetable side, although they were not denoted as vegetarian or vegan.
I tried to look at this website from my daughter’s point of view as well as my own, asking myself questions like, if I were her, would I want to eat this? Does she have choices, or is she limited? As a parent, do I feel good about these choices? The answer is a resounding “no”. Some of the restaurants offer only one meal that sounded vegetarian and most offered only sides such as fruit or vegetables. Since vegan/vegetarian isn’t one of the criteria, they aren’t clearly identified so parents can’t be certain that the meals actually are vegetarian. Therefore further exploration of a restaurant’s website would be needed to decide if the restaurant is one to add to possible choices for you and your family. The only restaurant that appealed to me was pizza. Their vegan pizza sounds astounding! They were the only restaurant that stated that they offered a vegan meal. Alas, their only location is in Seattle, WA.
This website could be a useful starting point for vegetarian parents who are trying to find more health conscious food choices for their children at restaurants. It would be beneficial to have added criteria such as vegan/vegetarian, or dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free for those with intolerances and allergies. For now, when the mood strikes to get out the house and let someone else do the cooking, my family and I will stick to using these other great websites for finding vegetarian/vegan restaurants including http://www.vegdining.com/Home.cfm, http://www.happycow.net/, and http://www.vrg.org/restaurant/index.php.
Written by Corey Bivins, a volunteer with VRG.