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Are Happy Meals doomed? 19 restaurant chains pledge healthier kids' meals

The fight against childhood obesity has gained new allies. Some 15,000 restaurants from 19 chains have agreed to offer low-calorie, lower-fat meals for children and adults.

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“I can certainly applaud any organization or restaurant that provides better nutrition for children,” Scarlata says. “I just don’t want parents to go in and think Burger King has healthy options. It’s improved.”

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On Monday, first lady Michelle Obama, who spearheads the Let’s Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity, enjoyed some not-so-healthy food at the Washington Shake Shack diner: a burger, fries, chocolate shake, and diet Coke.

“I don’t want to live a life where I can never have [burgers and fries] again,” she told USA Today last year. “And if we told families and children that that was the answer, we’d never get there.”

You can still indulge in a burger-and-fries meal if you have an overall dietary plan, says Judith Stern, an nutritionist at University of California, Davis.

“You’ve got to take an approach that isn’t, ‘You’re really bad, don’t do this,’ ” Professor Stern says. “Food is meant to be enjoyed.”

She suggests asking fast food restaurants to give you fewer French fries, or throwing away some of your buttery movie popcorn before taking your seat. “If you don’t have it, you won’t eat it.”

Babey agrees. “People have a tendency to finish a meal – and it doesn’t necessarily matter if something is 400 calories or 800 calories,” she says.

“If kids can get healthier options with a kid’s meal, that’s an improvement,” Babey says. “It remains to be seen if people will gravitate to them or not.”

Restaurants participating in the Kids LiveWell initiative include: Au Bon Pain, Bonefish Grill, Burger King, Burgerville, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Chevys Fresh Mex, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Corner Bakery Cafe, Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, El Pollo Loco, Friendly’s, IHOP, Joe’s Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouse, Silver Diner, Sizzler, T-Bones Great American Eatery and zpizza - adding up to some 15,000 locations nationwide.

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