By Dr. Jack Rutherford
A new study of the nutritional quality of children’s meals at large restaurant chains has found that 97 percent fail to meet the standards of good nutrition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Margo Wooten, the center’s director of nutrition policy said, “These were pretty dismal results.”
The center did a similar study in 2008 and found that 99 percent of restaurant meals for children were unhealthy. Wooten said she expected more of an improvement given that the restaurants themselves have been promoting healthier options for kids.
“It’s one thing if they had gone from 99 percent unhealthy to 50-50,” she said. “But to go from 1 percent of kids’ meals being healthy to 3 percent over four years — it’s as if the restaurant industry hasn’t heard there is an obesity epidemic in this country.”
Subway was the only restaurant that did not have sugared drinks with its children’s meals, offering low-fat milk or water instead. Furthermore, all eight of Subway’s Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations met the center’s nutritional standards.
Subway is one of 120 restaurant chains that participate in the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program, which requires that at least one children’s meal contain whole grains, two servings of fruits or vegetables, a low-fat dairy product and be under 600 calories. Restaurants are supposedly working to redesign their menus to improve the nutritional quality of their children’s meals.
Applebee’s was cited by the center as having the unhealthiest meal — a grilled cheese on sourdough bread with fries and 2-percent chocolate milk. The meal contained 1,210 calories, almost half of which came from fat. This was almost three times the number of calories allowed by the center’s criteria.
An Applebee’s spokesperson said that some of its other children’s menu choices offered significantly fewer calories, fat, and sodium, like a grilled chicken sandwich with steamed broccoli and apple or grape juice (355 calories).
“We know Applebee’s best serves our guests by providing a wide selection of dishes, and we’ll continue to do so by expanding the number of options for kids by the end of this year,” the company stated.
Clearly, the vast majority of restaurants need to do more children’s menu redesigning.