The never ending pasta bowl goes healthy with the first lady
First lady Michelle Obama applauds the decision of the restaurant chain that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster to offer lower calorie, lower sodium menu choices. Looking on (left) is Darden Restaurant Chairman and Executive Officer Clarence Otis, Jr.
September 15th, 2011
04:47 PM ET

The never ending pasta bowl goes healthy with the first lady

First Lady Michelle Obama scored a big win Thursday in her campaign to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation.  Mrs. Obama announced that the biggest full service restaurant company in the world, Darden Restaurants which owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse among others, has agreed to cut sodium and calories on its menus across the board as well as offering healthier menu choices targeted to kids. 

"This is a breakthrough moment in the restaurant industry," Mrs. Obama told reporters and guests invited by Darden and the White House to an Olive Garden Restaurant in suburban Hyattsville, Maryland.  The first lady, who called on restaurants to rethink their menus when she spoke at the National Restaurant Association more than a year ago, praised Darden for what she called its vision and commitment. 

"Darden is doing what no restaurant company has done before. They're not just making their kids’ menus healthier so that parents have more choices and more control; they're making changes across their full menu at every single one of their restaurants throughout the country," she said. 

Darden announced it wants to cut its corporation's calorie "footprint" with a goal of reducing calories of items on its menus by 10% over the next five years and 20% over the next ten years.  The company also plans to cut the sodium or salt in its menu items by the same measure– 10% less salt in the next five years and 20% less salt in the next ten years. 

The company, which owns 1900 restaurants across the United States serving 400 million meals each year, says they're doing this to help their community but that the bottom line still looms large.

"It does none of us any good to have food that may be nutritionally good but doesn't taste good... [o]ur real purpose is getting the food we know is good for people also be food that they love," said Robert S. McAdam, Darden's senior vice president for government and community affairs on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

McAdam said that is precisely why the corporation plans to implement this new initiative in a "transition-over-approach". 

"[D]eveloping food that people love, the taste profiles that they love, the cravability that they love– it takes a long time...we need a long time to be sure we get it right." 

Executives from the Orlando,FL, based company in town for Thursday's announcement insisted higher calorie, and perhaps less healthy consumer favorites, would remain on their menus. 

"It's not about necessarily sacrificing the preferences we have today but adding new items that we can increase preference for in the future,"  McAdams said.  

For its kids menus, the restaurant giant plans to implement healthy changes sooner.  By next summer they will offer a fruit or vegetable as the standard side dish for a kid's meal.  Forget the standard sugary soft drink option. One percent milk with free refills will be provided automatically if a child doesn't specifically request another type of drink. 

And the photos on the menu that make your mouth water for those french fries or that chocolate sundae will be equally enticing but also feature healthy choices. 

The Partnership for a Healthier America, a non-partisan organization that works alongside the first lady's efforts, called Darden's initiative a "meaningful commitment" that would be monitored for its progress.  PHA chairman Dr. James Gavin announced Dardin has signed a "binding, legal agreement" to allow his organization to evaluate and monitor Darden's progress on its goals. 

As for calls that the food police are running rampant, the first lady went on the offense. 

"It’s not about telling people what to do," said Mrs. Obama, who has been criticized by some for her "Let's Move" campaign to instill healthy eating habits in children. 

"It’s about parents taking responsibility for what their kids eat, and it’s about companies like Darden helping parents meet that responsibility by providing healthy options," she insisted. 

"I know the feeling because I've been there. I mean, it wasn't that long that we lived in a regular house. We didn't always live in the White House," she told the two dozen invited guests at the suburban restaurant. 

"And it wasn't that long ago that Barack and I were struggling just like most families to try to keep it all together. Our girls always had busy schedules, like many of you. They did then; they do now. And there were plenty of times that things like cleaning and grocery shopping and cooking fell by the wayside. And like many parents, we aspired to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals for our families because we knew that was the best way to ensure that our girls ate right was to cook it ourselves. But sometimes we just didn't have the time and, quite frankly, we didn't have the energy," said Mrs. Obama. 

But she warned that parents who control the purse strings need to get on board as well or the healthy choices won't continue to be offered. "We literally have to put our money where our mouths are, so that they keep doing it. We have to give them the incentive to do the right thing by stepping up and making those choices."

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Me

    Dang it! I just ate at Red Lobster Saturday. It's endless shrimp time and it was my anniversary. Well, still great work by Mrs. Obama.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  2. Central Park West

    Great Job Michelle. I am tired of traveling around and worrying where I can find low sodium food. It is so hard to find healthy really nutritious food in a country that is so rich! Just sad!

    September 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  3. Jay in NC

    "20% less salt in the next ten years?" At that rate it would take them 30 years to cut the amount of sodium in half.

    Here is a simple, quick, no cost idea for cutting sodium ... add less salt.

    September 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  4. como1

    So Obama administration gun running to Mexico is under Congressional investigation with thousands of weapons missing. A Wikileaks leak of a US govt. email saying that upwards of 90% of the weapons used by Mexican drug cartels are purchased on the international weapons market not the US as Obama has lied to the US people about. Solyndra is bankrupt costing taxpayers $530 million, Obama visted the comapny in May 2011 and said all was well, but bankrupcy was already in the works. The loan conditions were changed to that US taxpayers are 2nd tier payees. And CNN rights about the pasta bowl in the White House. Great reporting.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • como1

      And as a post script ot Solyndra, George Kaiser an Oil millionaire, bundled campaign contributions to Obama and in payment Obama lifted the hold placed on federal loans to Solyndra. The hold that the Bush Administration put in place based upon the fact that in 2008 the government knew Solyndra was failing. Political favoratism in the Obama campaing, perhaps even corruption and pasta bowls.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
      • momofour1

        @ como1 – get a life! This is about the first lady and a plan to invoke parents to think about healthy meal options for their kids.

        September 16, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Howard

      Thank you como1 for keeping the reader's attention on important matters, and the unvarnished truth about how obama is destroying America ... instead of the fabricated photo ops, and non-stop, public relations propaganda which keeps trying to make the obama's look like something they're not.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  5. Judy

    Mrs. Obama,

    Bravo for your campaign to promote healthy eating and eliminate chidhood obesity. I applaud you for your work.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  6. Kate

    A humorous response to the first lady:

    September 21, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Nolitha

      This is true in any industry!! I am a pet groemor and have a small dog boutique, my prices are what I want to charge. Another groemor opened up and was $10 cheaper then me, she lasted till the next cheapest groemor on the block' opened up, then someone else opened and undercut her prices the cycle continues. Now I am four times the cost of my competitor. I gave her a ring because we are overflowing with clientelle and cannot handle them in a timely manner and wanted to know if I could offer her name. She said she has NO bookings all week and business is dead, even with her low prices (we are booked for 4 weeks in advance and 80% till mid Sept.). She wanted to know WHY we are doing so well. #1 We are good, I know we are good, our goal is to be pickier then my pickiest client. #2 We love Bob Phibbs and read his blog and listen to his advice and offer AWESOME customer service #3 When people call to price check we tell them the same line; We charge what we are worth!' No one questions this, about 90% of people do book. We also sell our services and advise they prebook all future appointments to avoid having to wait for an appointment. Nearly all do. A wise person told me, You can be the BEST or the CHEAPEST' I chose BEST:) Reply

      July 31, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  7. PJ

    I applaud the first lady for wanting to do something about overweight people. HOWEVER the REAL problem in commercial and processed foods is in high fructose corn syrup which appears in nearly all food items upon grocery store shelves!!!! Frustose contributes to obesity and diabetes and a host of other ills. HOW ABOUT getting CORPORATIONS OUT OF OUR FOOD SUPPLIES and allow the nation to choose healthy, UNADULTERATED harmful pesticides, chemicals, herbicides, fungicides, or MICROBIAL BIOLOGICAL CONTROLS which I might add are not only designed to make pest insects ill, but in time will likely be found as THE LEADING SOURCE OF HUMAN INFECTIONS around the globe!!! We DO NOT WANT OR NEED multi-national corporations or governments dictating what we can and cannot eat (and no I don't go to restaurants and yes I eat organic).... while they should be dictating to corporations to stay the heck out of our food supplies!!!! Now THAT would be a useful campaign!!

    September 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  8. SaintM

    Como 1, stop with your blithering. Solyndra was not all on Obama. Read the article. The money was invested in the interests of green technology possibly creating new jobs. I'm sure President Obama had nothing to do wtih the fact that they went bankrupt, as he was not there CEO or president. The president of the US is not responsible for a company mismanaging itself into oblivion....what a moron. Maybe you should read a few books on business administration.

    September 22, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  9. SaintM

    BTW, nice work Mrs. Obama, for taking hold of this issue and shining a bright light on it. This kind of high level attention is what this country needs to really wake up to this growing problem and start to reverse the trend.

    September 22, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Joey

      This won't do any good if parents don't set simple nutrition rules at home. You truly believe Michelle Obama can alter the eating habits of our youth? Sounds to me like you just don't like personal accountability. Parents are responsible for their children, not the government.

      November 25, 2011 at 5:15 am |
    • Alejandro

      It is really siplme, look at the murdering asshole Laura Bush married after killing her ex-boyfriend, and the drug induced stepford style of hers is easy to discern, so children run from her.Michelle actually has empathy and love for children and they can sense that, so they run to her.Not all that complex when you think about it.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  10. Cherie

    Why does she do this? Doesn't she know she is not kidding anyone with those thunder thighs? She has big mac attacks just like everyone. SURPRISE!

    September 24, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  11. Mandy1

    Childhood obesity is out of control. It is beginning at much earlier ages. Obviously, if the parents do not/cannot/will not teach their children nutritional eating, then someone has to try to teach them. Good for thre First Lady in trying to get through to the children It has to start somewhere. If someone doesn't do it, children are going to DIE BEFORE their parents. Studies have shown this and it's time for someone to take action and do what they can. Good for Michelle.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  12. L W G

    This is wonderful! Thanks Darden for committing to this big step. Michelle thanks for taking on this huge task!

    October 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Sunanta

      I'm posting from my Crackberry, so fovrige me if the links don't work. The latest reactor status from the Japanese Atomic Industrial Forum ( is . The JIAF rates the fuel rod pool situations at Units 3 & 4 as severe'. It indicates the containment for those two reactors as damaged suspected'. Lastly, the Nuclear Energy Institute () has a fact sheet on fuel rod pools . My understanding the real issue is that some of the fuel in the Unit 4 pool isn't spent.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  13. sara

    Thanks grandson is overweight and his mother is stressed out from having to work 2 jobs to pay rent, transporation and daycare. His grandfather/father died of Diabetes and I am so afraid. It is so hard for his mother to beat the 14 hour days and cook for her sons (2) the right way. THANK you!

    October 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  14. sara

    One of the Best First Ladies our country has had. I just had to say this!

    October 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Andrieli

      I see another Palin suprpoter has opened his mouth, even though I wasn't around to hear it before it got deleted. Racist/sexist remarks are their calling cards. Sick assholes!

      August 1, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  15. Joey

    sara, it sounds like bad parenting on your daughter's part. You actually think Michelle Obama can fix your grandson's weight? If you're so concerned why don't you help? Instead you want new laws which of course won't work anyway if there are no guidelines at home. I guess you didn't teach your daughter good nutrition, you kicked the can down the road instead.

    November 25, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  16. Joey

    I predict childhood obesity will rise regardless of what Michelle Obama says or does. It's not Michelle's job to look after YOUR children, you want her to but there just aren't enough resources. Someday maybe parents will wake up but I doubt it, personal responsibility has been on a steep decline.

    November 25, 2011 at 5:22 am |
  17. Dennis

    Maybe she should have read this article before issuing praise.

    Cut portions and employee wages and health care.

    Ironic, Obama praises Green business that go bankrupt and She praises businesses that stick it to workers.

    October 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm |