The Kids Are All Right at Whole Foods

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Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM  ) is no stranger to charitable endeavors. For its latest good deed, it's aiming to alleviate the growing problem of childhood obesity.

The organic grocer has formed the Whole Kids Foundation, which will help steer children's nutritional choices in partnership with schools and other organizations. Whole Kids' first planned program will encourage "teaching gardens," helping improve kids' relationship to food through the act of gardening.

The company's Whole Planet Foundation already uses microcredit to help foster small business in poverty-stricken areas. Since the foundation works in countries from which Whole Foods already sources products, the company's good works also help support these communities by lifting more of their citizens out of poverty. The foundation's work fits perfectly with Whole Foods' belief that taking care of all its stakeholders will benefit the company and the world in return.

Its rivals have their own philanthropic initiatives to address community concerns -- and make consumers feel better about their patronage. Rival grocer Safeway's (NYSE: SWY  ) charitable foundation supports causes like hunger relief and education. Its educational segment includes a request that recipient schools earmark 20% of its contributions to nutrition and fitness programs.

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) tries to show that it has a big heart, too. Among other efforts, the Wal-Mart Foundation has made big contributions to relieving hunger, including this year's $25 million campaign to help nonprofits provide nutrition services and other summer programs for children. Through the program, Wal-Mart's providing 8 million meals to 85,000 school children in lower-income and inner-city areas.

On the flip side, many critics have accused McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) of getting kids hooked on unhealthy fast food through marketing gimmicks like Ronald McDonald and Happy Meals. In response, McDonald's announced today that'll shrink Happy Meal portions of its famous French fries, and add a service of fruits and vegetables to those meals.

Growing and nurturing those fruits and veggies from seeds could be an even better way to help kids form a closer relationship with healthier foods. If Whole Foods' new program succeeds, it could be good for healthy kids and Whole Foods' future.

The cornucopia of growth Whole Foods wants to assemble depends upon initiatives that aim to change the world for the better.  The Whole Kids Foundation sounds like yet another healthy step toward that larger goal.

This article is part of our Rising Stars Portfolio series, where we give some of our most promising stock analysts cold, hard cash to manage on the Fool's behalf. We'd like you to track our performance and benefit from these real-money, real-time free stock picks. See all of our Rising Star analysts (and their portfolios).

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market in her personal portfolio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and Whole Foods. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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