Finally, Healthful Fast Food

In what has been described as a move to build a more nutritious Happy Meal, McDonald's has announced that the popular menu selection will soon not only contain fruit but will also provide less than half the number of French fries. This makeover will result in a reduction of 110 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 130 mg of sodium. And beyond the changes to the Happy Meal, the company plans to reduce salt in many of its menu items over the next three years with reductions in calories, saturated fats, and sugars to occur over the next decade.

The New York Times quoted Mrs. Obama as stating that these changes were "positive steps." And I agree, these are small but meaningful steps in the right direction. Making changes in the fast food that makes up such a significant part of the American diet, even if the numbers aren't impressive, will have important health up sides.

But there's an even bigger story unfolding behind the scenes with a McDonald's tie-in that will undoubtedly have an unprecedented impact on the eating choices and habits of Americans. Michael Roberts, former McDonald's President, and Michael Donahue who held a variety of positions during his 20 years with McDonald's including Chief Communications and External Relations Officer are preparing to open the first location of a what promises to be a revolutionary restaurant concept. LYFE Kitchen, an acronym for "Love Your Food Everyday" will provide health-focused, fast-casual dining experience featuring menu entrées with all-natural ingredients, low sodium, no trans fats, and all with less than 600 calories.

As a nutritionally minded physician, when I learned what these folks were planning, I was absolutely thrilled that finally someone had taken the high road in terms of feeding Americans. But just to be sure, I decided to take a trip to their headquarters in Chicago to learn first hand what was in the works.

It turns out that as expected, the LYFE team has done their homework. They've hired Art Smith, Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef and Tal Ronnen, known for his creativity with vegan and vegetarian dishes to design the menu from what they describe as responsibly-sourced ingredients.

While I didn't have the opportunity to actually sample the menu, the descriptions not only sounded delicious but also were right on track nutritionally, at least from my perspective. And according to Mike Donahue, the average check at LYFE will fall between $8 and $12 for lunch and $12 and $15 for dinner. In addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes the LYFE Kitchen restaurants will also serve smoothies, coffee, beer and wine as well as chicken and grass-fed beef burgers so there should certainly be broad appeal.

So rather than attempting to tweak an existing menu to satisfy critics, the LYFE Kitchen concept begins anew with the promise of purveying food that's healthful from the start, and they are well on their way. The team plans to open their first restaurant in September in Palo Alto, California, and I for one will be wishing them luck and following them closely.