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World’s Largest Full Service Restaurant Company Commits to Menu Changes to Improve Nutrition and Fight Childhood Obesity

Olive Garden, Red Lobster and other Darden restaurants to help make the healthy choice the easy choice

WASHINGTON, DC (September, 15, 2011) – The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), together with First Lady Michelle Obama, announced today that Darden Restaurants, Inc., the world’s largest full service restaurant company, has committed to improve the nutrition of its children’s and full menus, increasing healthy choices for millions of its guests.

Darden owns and operates approximately 1,900 restaurants in 49 states, serving more than 400 million meals per year. By July 2012, children’s menus at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze will offer one percent milk as the default beverage and guarantee a fruit or vegetable as the default side for every kids’ menu item at those restaurants offering a default side. All of Darden’s brands, including Capital Grille and Seasons 52, will reduce its sodium and calorie footprint by 10 percent over five years and 20 percent over 10 years.

“I’m here today because this is a breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “Darden is doing what no restaurant company has done before – they’re not just revamping their kids menus to give kids better food and parents more choices and more control, they’re committing to make changes across the entire menu at every single one of their restaurants.

Darden is working to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and they’re making it the delicious and fun choice too. I’m confident that if companies like Darden continue to be creative and innovative and have our kids’ best interests at heart then we will solve the challenge of childhood obesity and give all our kids the healthy futures they deserve.”

In the last decade, Americans have spent roughly half of their families’ total food budgets and consumed nearly a third of all calories away from home. Additionally, Americans have almost doubled the amount of money spent on food outside the home. In 2010, Americans spent $433 million on food away from home. In 2000, Americans spent about $280 million.

“The Partnership is focused on making the healthy choice the easy choice, whether by working with grocers to bring healthy, affordable food into areas that lack access or with day care centers to ensure that children are starting out their lives with the healthy options they need,” said PHA Board Chair James R. Gavin III, M.D., Ph.D. “Recent studies predict half of all Americans will be obese by 2030. That’s every other person who walks into a restaurant, grocery store or corner bodega. And that’s why, with Darden’s massive reach combined with the leadership they are continuing to show in this area, we are more excited than ever about our chances of ending childhood obesity.”

“Today we are taking a new step forward by creating the most comprehensive health and wellness commitment in the restaurant industry, while preserving our promise to offer our guests the delicious food they have come to know and love from their favorite Darden restaurants,” said Drew Madsen, president and chief operating officer of Darden Restaurants. “The First Lady continues to lead the growing national efforts to make healthy food options more available and accessible, and we’re pleased to collaborate with her and the Partnership for a Healthier America on this important commitment.”

Specifically, Darden is making the following commitments:

Kids’ Menus – changes starting now and to be fully implemented by July 2012

  • Guarantee a fruit or vegetable will be the default side for every kids’ menu item at those restaurants offering a default side on the children’s menu: Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster.

  • One percent milk will be the default beverage, provided automatically if no alternate beverage is requested. Milk will be prominently promoted on the menu and made available with free refills.

  • Food illustrations on the menu will promote the healthy choices for meals and drinks.

  • Healthier menu options will be more prominently displayed when possible.

  • Carbonated beverages will not be displayed on children’s menus.

  • Improve the nutritional content of one or more children’s menu items to provide equal or less than 600 calories, 30% of total calories from fat, 10% of total calories from saturated fat, and 600 mg of sodium.

Calories/Sodium Footprint Reduction – changes to be implemented by 2016 and 2021

  • By 2016, reduce calories by 10% and over a ten-year period by 20%.

  • By 2016, reduce sodium by 10% and over a ten-year period by 20%.

Every company that works with PHA is required to agree that PHA will monitor and report on progress toward their commitment. Darden has agreed to provide annual reports outlining its progress in meeting calorie and sodium reductions on all menu items and its enhanced nutritional standards for children’s menus, as well as provide annual samples of children’s menus from each brand. PHA will benchmark data in 2011 and contract with an independent verifier to monitor compliance beyond the Darden-submitted reports.

The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis. In 2010, PHA was created in conjunction with – but independent from – First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! effort. PHA is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that is led by some of the nation’s most respected health and childhood obesity experts. PHA brings together public, private and nonprofit leaders to broker meaningful commitments and develop strategies to end childhood obesity. Most important, PHA ensures that commitments made are commitments kept by working with unbiased, third parties to monitor and publicly report on the progress our partners are making. For more information about PHA, please visit and follow PHA on Twitter @PHAnews.

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