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Subway To Sell Kids Pak Meal That Focuses On Health

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Fast food's race to sell the first better-for-you kids meal nationally has an unlikely winner: Subway.

On Monday, the sandwich chain that made dieter Jared Fogle a household name, will announce a revamped kids meal sold at all 19,000 Subways.

In its new Kids Pak, the former cookie falls victim to a fruit roll, and the soft drink is deep-sixed for a 100% juice carton. The sandwich remains the same. All the major fast foodies are testing improved kids meals, but none has gone national yet.

The move comes at a time that the $105 billion fast-food industry is focusing like a laser on better-for-you food. The major chains have been reacting to threats of lawsuits, tough legislation and changing consumer taste. Now, healthier food is filtering down to the $10 billion kids meal sector -- considered by many fast-food executives as one of the industry's critical links.

How will kids react to less junk food in kids meals?

''For most kids, fast food has become a toy experience, not a food experience,'' says Scott Hume, managing editor of Restaurants and Institutions, an industry trade publication. ''Kids may not care if they get fruit instead of fries, just so they get their Nemo toys.''

For Subway, the move was critical because of its better-for-you image. For four years, spokesman Fogle has bragged in some 23 TV ads about slimming from 495 pounds to 190 pounds on low-fat Subway items.

''I've wanted to speak to kids about this for years,'' Fogle said in an interview. Fogle will be Subway's spokesman on the kids campaign. ''I was such a huge kid growing up. I know how big kids feel.''

Subway executives say customers gave them no choice. ''Customers kept saying: 'Do it,' '' says Chris Carroll, director of marketing. The fruit roll has 50 calories compared with 160 for the cookie it replaces, and the Minute Maid juice box has 100 calories vs. 150 in the 12-ounce soft drink.

Here's what other fast foodies are doing:

* Wendy's. The No. 3 burger chain this week announced plans to test fruit cups and milk as options in its Kids Meals in 420 restaurants in four markets.

* McDonald's. In several markets, the giant is testing Apple Dippers -- apple slices that can be dipped in caramel -- as an alternative to fries in Happy Meals. It's also testing white meat-only Chicken McNuggets in two markets. Outside the USA, it is testing fresh fruit in Britain and baby carrots in Sweden as options.

* Burger King. Executives won't say, but industry consultants say healthier kids meals are in the works.

Despite all this activity, the question remains: How to get kids interested in healthier food in kids meals? ''Shape it like gummy bears,'' suggests Elaine Murphy, a certified nutritionist in Los Gatos, Calif.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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