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Kids' foods cutting back on fat

Some of the biggest U.S. food and restaurant companies are offering healthier versions of kids' favorite foods as they face more scrutiny amid a growing childhood obesity epidemic.
/ Source: Reuters

Some of the biggest U.S. food and restaurant companies are changing the way they make kids' favorite foods as they face increased scrutiny in light of a nationwide childhood obesity epidemic.

In recent months, the growing health-consciousness of Americans has pressured major food makers like Kraft Foods Inc. and restaurant chains like McDonald’s Corp. to reformulate the fat, calorie and carbohydrate contents of foods like cookies and French fries.

But as concerns fester regarding the roughly 15 percent of U.S. children and adolescents that are considered overweight, companies are also taking action to slim down the nutritional content of products made specifically for kids.

Casual dining chain Ruby Tuesday Inc., for instance, next month will launch a new children’s menu that includes grilled chicken and roast turkey entrees with side dishes of mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

The new meals have less fat and fewer calories than the burgers, fried chicken strips and French fries often found on kids’ menus, said Julie Reid, Ruby Tuesday’s director of culinary research and development.

“The parents who feed their kids healthy at home now know they can eat healthy at the restaurant,” Reid said in an interview.

Ruby Tuesday’s move comes as several major food makers are announcing plans to offer healthier versions of their most popular foods for kids. The industry, which last year witnessed McDonald’s become the target of a well-publicized obesity lawsuit, wants to insulate itself from litigation blaming specific foods for making people fat.

Healthier options
Cereal maker General Mills Inc. said last week it will introduce reduced-sugar versions of the popular kids' cereals Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Puffs next month. Rival Kellogg Co. launched reduced-sugar versions of kids’ cereals like Frosted Flakes earlier this year.

Other companies are making changes in response to moves by some of the largest U.S. public school systems to ban soft drinks, candy and fat-laden snacks from vending machines and cafeterias.

Frozen French fry maker J.R. Simplot Co., for instance, said last week it developed a new line of fries made specifically for school lunches. The reformulated fries, which schools in San Diego and Alabama plan to use, are baked rather than fried and do not contain artery-clogging trans-fats.

Another company that has perhaps made the most drastic change to its business is Atlanta-based Innovative Candy Concepts, which said last week it is removing refined sugar from its entire product line, which includes the Too Tarts candy brand.

“The demand is already there,” Armand Hammer, Chief Executive of I.C.C., said in a statement. “The kids candy market has been ignored. That is changing and we’re a big part of that change.”

The rejigged brand, renamed Too Tarts SmartChoice, will hit store shelves in July.