Parents looking for healthy meal choices for their young ones are unlikely to find good choices at the nation’s top restaurant chains, according to a recent report by a nonprofit public health group.
It's A Big Problem
The report found that 93 percent of of meals for kids at 13 chains exceeded one-third of the recommended TOTAL calories that a child (4 to 8 years old) should consume in a WHOLE DAY.
Nearly every possible combination of the children's meals at restaurants like Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sonic, and Chick-fil-A are too high in calories, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said.
Other examples: Chili's Bar and Grill has 700 possible kids' meal combinations, of which 94%, or 658, are too high in calories. One Chili's meal of country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk contained 1,020 calories, while another that included cheese pizza, fries, and lemonade held 1,000 calories. Burger King's “Big Kids” meal with a double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk came in at 910 calories, and Sonic has a “Wacky Pack” with 830 calories (grilled cheese, fries, and a Slushie).
Subway's kids' meals were the best among the chains mentioned in the report. Only 6 of 18 kids' meals exceed the 430-calorie threshold. Note: Subway is the only chain that does not offer soft drinks with kids' meals; this helped lower the calorie count.
The center's director notes that McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and other chains are conditioning kids to expect burgers, fried chicken, pizza, French fries, macaroni and cheese, and soda in various combination at almost every lunch and dinner. This is leading directly to an explosion of obesity in American kids today.
The report also noted that 45% of children's meals exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fats, which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. And 86% of children's meals are high in sodium.
Responses from some of the restaurant chains included:
Sonic said the chain is planning on adding a variety of healthy side items, including string cheese at 90 calories each.
KFC released a statement saying “we are proud to offer a variety of kids meals for those looking for lower calorie, lower fat options.” The statement noted that the report's calculations include baked Cheetos and a biscuit, side foods that are no longer offered.
Jack in the Box said while kids meals are not a “significant part of our business,” parents do have several healthful items they can select for their children, such as applesauce and reduced fat milk.
What should be done about it
The report recommends that restaurants:
Reformulate their menu items to reduce calories, saturated and trans fat, and salt, and add more healthy items like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Make fruit or vegetables and low-fat milk or water the default sides instead of French fries and soda for children's meals.
Provide nutrition on menus and menu boards. New York and San Francisco are among the cities and localities that have adopted menu labeling policies.
Other restaurant chains included in the report are Wendy's, Dairy Queen, Arby's and Denny's. The center also noted that 6 major restaurant chains — Applebee's, TGIFriday's, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and IHOP — were not included in the report because they do not disclose nutrition information about their meals even when asked.
What should you do?
When you eat out, BE CAREFUL. Get ingredients lists and calorie counts if you can. And definitely use our Eat Out Smart resource to guide you through the maze of extremely unhealthful choices out there. There ARE good choices to be made, you just need to know where and how to make them.