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Panera challenges McDonalds, other chains to step up kids' menu

Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich threw down the gauntlet on Thursday, challenging rival restaurants to step up their kids' meal game.

The sandwich chain, which has long been shedding artificial ingredients and preservatives from its foods, revealed that its children's menu will be free from all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors identified on the company's extensive "No-No List" starting Sept. 7.

"Frankly, the typical restaurant industry kids meal doesn't serve our kids well," Shaich said in a statement. "We shouldn't be marketing to kids. Toys and games distract from honest food choices. They come with poor options like fries and sugary beverages. This is not food as it should be. The meals we serve our children should be good food."

Panera's kids' menu contains a selection of soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches as well as yogurt as a side. The company encourages kids to drink water, but will provide organic milk or juice as part of the meal.

Shaich said he believes that kids' meals should include no gimmicks, distractions, cartoon characters, crazy colors, toy or toy-shaped foods; a clear dig at fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King.

McDonald's recently announced that would be removing artificial preservatives from its chicken nuggets and across its breakfast menu. It has also made a commitment to ditch high-fructose corn syrup in its buns and will only serve chicken that has not been treated with antibiotics important to human medicine.

"We are proud of the big changes we have made to our food," Terri Hickey, a McDonald's spokeswoman, told CNBC. "Most importantly, we are committed to doing more and will continue to make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald's even better."