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5 Popular Kids' Meals Your Children Shouldn't Eat in Restaurants

Tim Boyer's picture
Resturant Food and Kids

In a recent study released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), researchers are telling parents to keep their children away from kids’ meals that they rate as the worst nutritionally for failing to meet dietary standards. Of the meals identified as obesity-causing, 6 were particularly bad with at least one kids’ meal that has nearly three times as many calories, and three times as much sodium as the amounts recommended by health authorities.

The findings are the result of analyzing nearly 3,500 meal possibilities offered by 34 restaurant chains for their calorie, salt, saturated and trans-fat, and sugar content. The shocking finding is that although it has been generally known for the past several years that kids’ meals are nutritionally poor, little improvement has been made in spite of education and nutrition programs. Of the 3,500 meal possibilities analyzed, 97% of the kids’ meals fail today in comparison to a 99% failure finding back in 2008.

According to a news release by the Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan states that, "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. 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."

In fact, of those restaurants that appear to be doing something to lessen the fat, calorie and sodium load carried by kids’ meals, the end result leaves much to be desired. Comparing the Happy Meal of yesterday (with its 590 calories, 20g total fat, 5g saturated fat, and 710mg sodium) to the Happy Meal of today (with its 450 calories, 16g total fat, 5g saturated fat, and 715mg sodium), concerned parents have little to be happy about when feeding their children at McDonalds.

The 5 Worst Kids’ Meals

Among some of the least healthy kids' meals available, the CSPI lists the following 6 as being especially unhealthy at the following chain restaurants and are recommended as kids’ meals that parent should avoid ordering:

1. Applebee's Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with Fries and 2 Percent Chocolate Milk has 1,210 calories with 62 grams of total fat (46 percent of calories), 21 grams of saturated fat (16 percent), and 2,340 milligrams of sodium. That meal has nearly three times as many calories, and three times as much sodium, as CSPI's criteria for four-to eight-year-olds allow.

2. Chili's Pepperoni Pizza with Homestyle Fries and Soda has 1,010 calories, 45 grams of total fat (40 percent of calories), 18 grams of saturated fat (16 percent of calories, and about as much saturated fat as an adult should consume in an entire day), and 2,020 milligrams of sodium.

3. Denny's Jr. Cheeseburger and French Fries has 980 calories, 55 grams of total fat (50 percent of calories), 20 grams of saturated fat (18 percent) and 1,110 mg of sodium. Denny's does not include beverages with kids' meals.

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4. Ruby Tuesday's Mac 'n Cheese, White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, and Fruit Punch has 860 calories, 46 grams of total fat (48 percent of calories) and 1,730 mg of sodium. Ruby Tuesday's does not disclose saturated or trans-fat content on its menus or website.

5. Dairy Queen's Chicken Strips, Kids' Fries, Sauce, Arctic Rush (a Slushee-type frozen drink) and Dilly Bar has 1,030 calories, 45 grams of total fat (39 percent of calories), 15 grams of saturated fat (13 percent of calories), and 1,730 mg of sodium.

The Best Place offering Healthy Kids’ Meals: Subway

Of the restaurants analyzed and rated for their kids’ meals, Subway was the only chain to meet CSPI's criteria for all its kids' meals. However, even with its notable higher score, CSPI officials state that Subway could improve further by increasing the whole grain content of its breads and continue to lower sodium content.

According to CSPI representatives, improving on the quality and quantity of kids’ meals is going to take a lot of initiative on the part of the restaurant industry. Recommended measures include in part:

• Participating in the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell program and reformulate meals so that all meet calorie, sodium, fats, and other nutrition standards
• Removing soft drinks and other sugary drinks from children's menus
• Offer more fruit (not just fruit juice) and vegetable options and make them the default side dishes with every children’s meal
• Offer more whole grains
• Provide nutrition information for all menu items on menus or menu boards.

Until then, however, it’s really up to the parents to take charge of their kid’s meals and ensure that they are eating healthy. There is not much evidence that change by the restaurant industry will occur anytime soon or to the degree that is needed toward kids’ meal.

For an informative article about baby foods that are unhealthy, follow this link to an article titled “Baby and Toddler Food Warning Every Parent Needs to Know.”

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: Center for Science in the Public Interest: “97% of Kids' Meals Flunk Nutrition, as Fried Chicken Fingers, Burgers, Fries, Soda Dominate at Chain Restaurants”