By: Brenda Neugent
If you and your family eat a lot of meals out, you may not be getting enough nutrients. That’s especially true when it comes to the kids, according to a new study.
A vast majority of restaurant meals aimed at children-a whopping 97 percent-are too high in calories, fat, and sodium to be healthy, say new reports from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The Center worked with a nutritionist based in Asheville, N.C., and looked at almost 3,500 kids’ meals marketed by 41 national chain restaurants.
Through there has been a push in recent tears for restaurants to make healthier offerings available to kids, chicken fingers and fries still top the list as the most common kids’ meal. Research found that it and other meals can contain upwards of 1,000 calories-about half the calories suggested for an entire day according to federal government guidelines.
“One out of every three American children is overweight or obese, but it’s as if the chain restaurant industry didn’t get the memo,” says CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “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.
“This is really disappointing,” adds Wootan, noting that 97 percent of restaurants did not meet her organization’s standards. “Restaurants should be doing better.”
CSPI recommends that kids’ meals have no more than 430 calories, with no more than 35 percent of those calories coming from fat.
When it comes to the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell menu standards, designed to help encourage healthier menus in American restaurants, establishments also failed to make the grade.
Of the kids’ meals offered at the 41 restaurants, 91 percent did not meet Kids LiveWell standards, which recommend that children’s meals have 600 or fewer calories, with no more than 35 percent of those calories coming from fat and sugar.
In fact, nine of the top chain restaurants, including industry stalwart McDonald’s, do not offer a single kids’ meal that meets Kids LiveWell standards. On the other hand, all eight of Subway’s children’s meals met Kids LiveWell standards, in part because the chain offers milk or water instead of sugary sodas as beverages.
The last CPSI study of children’s meals was conducted in 2008, with equally dismal results.
“The chain restaurant industry is conditioning kids to accept such a narrow range of foods,” says Ameena Batada, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville. “More chains are adding fruit, like apple slices, to their menus, but practically every chain could be adding more vegetable and whole grain options. And given the impact of sugar drinks on children’s health, those should be eliminated from kids’ meals at restaurants.”