In her latest flexing of federal “Let’s Move” muscle, First Lady Michelle Obama has strong-armed several major restaurant chains into re-designing their menus to her exacting healthy standards.
Michelle Obama said Thursday that a pledge by the Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants and their sister chains to serve healthier meals is a “breakthrough moment” for the industry.
Darden Restaurants Inc. is pledging to cut calories and sodium in its meals by 10 percent by 2016, and 20 percent over a decade. Among promised changes for children: no more french fries. A fruit or vegetable side will become standard with kids’ meals. One percent milk also will be served, including free refills, unless an alternative drink is ordered.
“With this new commitment, Darden is doing what no restaurant company has done before,” said the first lady, who joined executives of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden for the announcement at an Olive Garden restaurant in Hyattsville, Md., just outside Washington.
…The kids’ menu changes have begun and are to be in place by July at Darden’s 1,900 restaurants in 49 states. Its other brands are LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. The Capital Grille and Seasons 52 do not have children’s menus. The children’s menu will also include at least one 600-calorie or less option with reduced fat and sodium.
“We want to ensure that those who dine with us find the choices that they desire,” said Clarence Otis Jr., Darden’s chief executive officer.
In a normal, free-market environment, of course, business executives take their cue from customers — not from the East Wing.
But this is no normal, free-market environment.
And, I might add, Darden Restaurants is no normal restaurant chain.
At a time when most food service providers are struggling under the weight of increased taxes, health care mandates, and regulations, Darden Restaurants just happens to be one of the few and fortunate businesses to obtain one of those coveted Obamacare waivers.
Remember? I do. Flashback November 2010:
In early October, the Obama administration announced it had granted waivers not only to McDonald’s, but also to several other firms and labor unions.
Now comes word that Torquemada HHS Secretay Kathleen Sebelius has approved a whopping 111 waivers for businesses of all sizes, along with more unions and other providers of health insurance. The escapees include employers of many low-wage and part-time workers whose health insurance plans would otherwise be dropped, including Darden Restaurants — the parent company of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster and other chains, which employ some 34,000 people.
Among the waivers recently granted were for employers like Darden Restaurants, which operates the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants, for 34,000 of its workers. Federal officials have granted 111 waivers to employers, insurers and union plans, who are responsible for covering about 1.2 million people.
Darden said the waiver would allow it to offer employees access to affordable coverage as the health care law is started.
Quid pro quo: It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.