Most Fast Food “Kids Meals” Unhealthy

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Parents who want their children to eat healthy may want to reconsider stopping at the local fast-food restaurant for a quick meal. According to a new report, most of the “kids’ meals” being served at popular restaurants are much too high in calorie and exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fat content.

The report, released today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit health group, looked into the nutritional quality of kids’ meals at 13 major restaurant chains. They found 93 percent of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories – an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day.

“Parents want to feed their children healthy meals, but America’s chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan.

“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.”

The report found nearly every possible combination of children’s meals being offered by Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box, and Chick-fil-A to be too high in calories.

For instance, Burger King has a “Big Kids” meal with a double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk at 910 calories, and Sonic has a “Wacky Pack” with 830 calories worth of grilled cheese, fries, and a slushie.

Chili’s Bar and Grill has 700 possible kids’ meal combinations of which 94 percent are too high in calories. One Chili’s meal consists of country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk contained 1,020 calories. Another option was cheese pizza, homestyle fries, and lemonade containing 1,000 calories.

While there are some healthy choices on restaurant menus, “parents have to navigate a minefield of calories, fat and salt to find them,” the report said.

Subway’s kids’ meals came out the best among the chains examined in the report. Only 6 of their 18 “Fresh Fit for Kids” meals – which include a mini-sub, juice box, and one of several healthful side items such as apple slices, raisins or yogurt – exceed the 430-calorie threshold. Subway is also the only chain that doesn’t offer soft drinks with kids’ meals, which helped lower the calorie count.

In addition to the high calorie content of these meals, the report also found that 45 percent of children’s meals exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and 86 percent of children’s meals are too high in sodium.

The report recommends that restaurants reformulate their menus and add reduced calorie meals with lower salt and saturated and trans fat rates by substituting healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Instead of the traditional French fries and soda with a meal, offer low-fat milk or fruit and vegetables.

They also recommend that restaurants provide nutrition information on menu boards to assist parents who want a healthier meal choice for their children.

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