Restaurant Meals For Kids Loaded With Excess Calories And Fat
March 28, 2013

Restaurant Meals For Kids Loaded With Excess Calories And Fat

Enid Burns for — Your Universe Online

Childhood obesity continues to be a problem. A report released by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that chain restaurants are not doing enough to help kids - and parents - make good choices. And that those restaurants are contributing to the problem.

"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," CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan said in a statement from the organization. "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."

The report alleges that 97 percent of kids' meals don't measure up to nutrition guidelines. The industry lobbying group Kids LiveWell has its own nutrition requirements, and 91 percent of kids' meals at major chain restaurants across America don't meet those nutritional standards. Many meals add up to 1,000 calories, which is nearly the daily recommended calorie intake for children. Children ages 4 to 10 eat 1,200 to 2,200 calories per day, USA Today reported.

CSPI's nutrition criteria states that kids' meals must not exceed 430 calories, more than 35 percent of calories from fat, or more than 10 percent of calories from saturated plus trans fat. Additional criteria include that meals cannot have more than 35 percent of added sugars by weight, nor more than 770 milligrams of sodium.

"The criteria require meals to make a positive nutritional contribution either by providing at least half a serving of fruit or vegetable, including an item that is 51 percent or more whole grain, or including specific levels of vitamins or fiber," the report says.

CSPI excludes sugar drinks in favor of water, juice, or low-fat milk, in its criteria. National Restaurant Association has similar standards, however the association allows more calories.

Subway is the one chains that CSPI commended in the report, citing that all eight of the Subway's Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations met CSPI's nutrition criteria. Subway offers its kids' meals with low-fat milk or bottled water as a beverage, and doesn't include soft drinks on its kids' meal menu.

"Our goal has always been to provide the most nutritious, balanced kids meals in the industry and we are proud to be recognized by CSPI for achieving that goal," said Lanette Kovachi, corporate dietitian for the Subway brand, in a CSPI statement. "As a mom and a dietitian I know that it's not easy to get kids to eat things that taste great and include essential nutrients. Our menu can make both parent and child happy."

This is the first time that CSPI has reviewed the nutritional quality of kids' meals at chain restaurants since 2008. Only one percent of kids' meals met CSPI's nutrition standards in 2008. Three percent of kids' meals meet the standards in the 2012 report. The report finds that one-third of the restaurant chains had at least one meal that met the nutritional standards in 2008; 44 percent of meals met those guidelines in 2012. More meals meet the organization's sodium and calorie standards, however fewer meet the limits for saturated fat.

"The chain restaurant industry is conditioning kids to accept such a narrow range of foods," said Ameena Batada, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina, Asheville (UNCA). "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."