I don’t think this will come as a huge surprise to some people but many restaurant meals designed especially for kids contain way too much salt, calories and fat. What is surprising is how loaded some of these menu items really are. No caring parent wants their child to eat unhealthy foods and probably believe that a “kid’s menu” item is going to be a reasonable amount of calories and sodium. How bad can such a “smaller” meal be?
According to a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), pretty bad.
The CSPI has long monitored the public’s nutritional interest. They campaigned to bar sodium nitrates in bacon and other cured meats, pushed for sodium levels to be added to all food labels, obtained funding for more government food inspectors and prompted Congress to pass a law requiring notification of the presence of food allergens such as peanuts, wheat and milk on food labels to name just a few.
Now they’ve turned to restaurant kid’s menu items. The group found that among almost 3,500 combinations surveyed, kid’s meals failed to meet nutritional standards 97% of the time. That’s actually an improvement though over 2008 - when meals failed to meet standards 99% of the time. Not much of a change in 5 years.
What were some of the restaurants surveyed? Popular chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Dairy Queen, Hardee's, McDonald's, Panda Express, Perkins Family Restaurants and Popeyes.
Every “kid’s meal” fell-short of nutritional recommendations adopted by the center from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
They also didn’t meet the standards set by the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell Program, said the CSPI, which titled its study, "Kids' Meals: Obesity on the Menu."
"Most chains seem stuck in a time warp, serving up the same old meals based on chicken nuggets, burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries, and soda," said Margo Wootan, CSPI nutrition policy director. "It's like the restaurant industry didn't get the memo that there's a childhood obesity crisis."
One meal singled out was Applebee’s grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread, fries and 2% chocolate milk- a popular choice with many children. The meal had 1,210 calories, 62 grams of fat, and 2,340 milligrams of sodium. Whew!
The combo meal had nearly three times as many calories as the CSPI's criteria for four- to- eight-year-olds suggest.
Ruby Tuesday offers a macaroni and cheese plate, white cheddar mashed potatoes and fruit punch combo. This meal comes in at 870 calories, 46 grams of fat and 1700 milligrams of sodium, Wootan said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that children eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt each day to avoid high blood pressure, which can lead to coronary disease, stroke and other ailments.
Subway restaurants were the exception with “Fresh Fit for Kids” meal combos that included apple slices with its smaller sub sandwiches and low-fat milk and water instead of soda. All eight of its children's meals met CSPI's nutrition criteria. A few other restaurant chains have begun to offer vegetables and fruit as a side instead of the traditional fries. Longhorn Steakhouse’s kid’s meals now come with a veggie or fruit choice.
The report also noted that when patrons could read the calorie count and nutritional information on the menu, they sometimes made healthier choices.
To produce its study, the CSPI looked at 50 top U.S. chain restaurants, finding 34 of them had meals designed for children and were willing to provide nutritional data. It analyzed those meals and meal combinations.
Many times parents take their child to a restaurant for dinner or lunch because of time constraints or as a family night out. It’s fun and you don’t have to wash the dishes. But parents may want to consider which restaurants are truly family friendly and check to see if the calorie, fat and sodium count are listed on the menu. It’s not only a good idea for the children but for the adults too.