The Restaurant Initiative

The Restaurant Initiative aimed to reduce children’s excess calorie consumption in restaurants. To address disparities in childhood obesity rates, much of its work focused on the quick-service industry segment and lower-income populations.

The initiative undertook a portfolio of research projects to develop the evidence base for improving the nutritional quality of children’s menu options, inform strategic direction, and develop a business case to demonstrate that healthy menu changes can be good for children and good for business. This research assessed the immediate and longer-term effect of healthy kids’ menu changes on orders and revenue at a regional restaurant chain, the availability of and kids’ attitudes toward healthier side dishes, the landscape surrounding menu labeling, and the supply of healthier kids’ meals at leading quick- and full-service restaurants.

Key milestones for the Restaurant Initiative include:

  • In 2015, the initiative formed a steering committee to strategically guide the development of a national campaign focused on reducing excess calorie consumption among children when dining out.
  • In 2016, the initiative created and piloted You’re the Mom, a social marketing campaign that empowers mothers to take small steps to make healthy eating fun and easy for their kids. Designed to boost demand for healthier kids’ meals among lower-income moms who frequent quick-service restaurants with their children, the campaign was evaluated via a randomized controlled trial in two socioeconomically-diverse communities in Massachusetts with populations disproportionately affected by obesity. Encouraged by the results of this research, the initiative created a toolkit that allows communities across the country to implement the campaign.
  • In recent years, the You’re the Mom campaign has been expanded to include foods served at home. Learn more about what is happening with the campaign now.

Since its inception, the initiative worked with restaurant industry leaders to maximize its impact. Through cross-sector collaborations, convenings, and research partnerships, the Restaurant Initiative built relationships with the restaurant industry and established itself as a trusted expert in the field.


Explore more of our research about restaurants

Anzman-Frasca S, Dawes F, Sliwa SA, Dolan PR, Nelson ME, Washburn K, Economos CD. Healthier side dishes at restaurants: An analysis of children’s perspectives, menu content, and caloric impacts. IJBNPA. 2014, 11(1):81.

Anzman-Frasca S, Mueller MP, Sliwa S, Dolan PR, Harelick L, Roberts SB, Washburn K, Economos CD. Changes in children’s meal orders following healthy menu modifications at a regional US restaurant chain. Obesity. 2015; 23(5).

Anzman-Frasca S, Mueller MP, Lynskey VM, Harelick L, Economos CD. Orders Of Healthier Children’s Items Remain High More Than Two Years After Menu Changes At A Regional Restaurant Chain. Health Affairs. 2015 Nov 1;34(11):1885-92.

VanEpps EM, Roberto CA, Park S, Economos CD, Bleich SN. Restaurant Menu Labeling Policy: Review of Evidence and Controversies. Curr Obes Rep. 2016; 5(1): 72-80.

Sliwa S, Anzman-Frasca S, Lynskey V, Washburn K, Economos CD. Assessing the Availability of Healthier Children’s Meals at Leading Quick-Service and Full-Service Restaurants. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2016;48 (4): 242-249.

Mueller MP, Anzman-Frasca S, Blakeley CE, Folta SC, Wilde P, Economos CD. Ordering patterns following the implementation of a healthier children’s restaurant menu: a latent class analysis. Obesity. 2016.

Cohen DA, Lesser LI, Wright C, Story M, Economos CD. Kid’s menu portion sizes – how much should children be served? Nutr Today. 2016; 51(6): 273-280.

Anzman-Frasca S, Folta SC, Glenn ME, Jones-Mueller A, Lynskey VM, Patel AA, Tse LL, Lopez NV. Healthier children’s meals in restaurants: An exploratory study to inform approaches that are acceptable across stakeholders. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2017 Jan 18. pii: S1499-4046(16)30907-1.

Cohen JFW, Roberts SB, Anzman-Frasca S, Gamache MMG, Lynskey VM, Matthews E, Mueller MP, Sharma S, Economos CD. A pilot and feasibility study to assess children’s consumption in quick-service restaurants using plate waste methodology. BMC Public Health. 2017; 17(1):259.

Lynskey VM, Anzman-Frasca S, Harelick L, Korn A, Sharma S, Simms S, Economos CD. Low parental awareness about energy (calorie) recommendations for children’s restaurant meals: findings from a national survey in the USA. Public Health Nutr. 2017. Published online: Apr 28, 2017.

Lopez N, Folta SC, Lynskey VM, Glenn MP, Patel AA, Anzman-Frasca S. Promoting healthier children’s meals at quick-service and full-service restaurants: Results from a pilot and feasibility study. Appetite. 2017; 117:91-97. Published online: June 15, 2017.

Bleich SN, Economos CD, Spiker ML, Vercammen K, VanEpps EM, Block JP, Elbel B, Story M, Roberto CA. A systematic review of calorie labeling and modified calorie labeling interventions: Impact on consumer and restaurant behavior. Obesity. 2017 Dec;25 (12): 2018-2044. Published online: October 17, 2017.

Shonkoff ET, Anzman-Frasca S, Lynskey VM, Chan G, Glenn ME, Economos CD. Child and parent perspectives on healthier side dishes and beverages in restaurant kids’ meals: Results from a national survey in the United States. BMC Public Health. 2017;18(1):56. Published online: July 25, 2017.

Lynskey V, Shonkoff E, Matthews E, Zaslow J, Hennessy E, Callendar M, Economos CD, Harelick L. Using a marketing tool to optimize a social marketing campaign: insights from a copy test of a You’re the Mom Campaign Ad. Journal of nutrition education and behavior 50.9 (2018): 937-946.

Gervis JE, Hennessy E, Shonkoff ET, Bakun P, Cohen J, Mueller MP, Roberts SB, Economos CD. Weighed Plate Waste Can Accurately Measure Children’s Energy Consumption from Food in Quick-Service Restaurants. The Journal of Nutrition 150.2 (2020): 404-410.