Study: Restaurant Kids' Meals Loaded With Calories

A consumer advocacy group calls out top food chains for unhealthy fare.

ByJOAN LOWY
February 26, 2009, 3:28 PM

Aug. 4, 2008— -- WASHINGTON (AP) - Parents looking for healthy meal choices fortheir children are likely to find slim pickings on the menus of thenation's top restaurant chains, according to a report releasedMonday by a nonprofit public health group.

Nearly every possible combination of the children's meals atKentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box, andChick-fil-A are too high in calories, the report by the Center forScience in the Public Interest said.

The report looked into the nutritional quality of kids' meals at13 major restaurant chains. The center found 93 percent of 1,474possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories -- an amountthat is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicinerecommends that children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day.

For example, Chili's Bar and Grill has 700 possible kids' mealcombinations, but 658, or 94 percent, of those are too high incalories. One Chili's meal comprised of country-fried chickencrispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk contained 1,020calories, while another comprised of cheese pizza, homestyle fries,and lemonade contained 1,000 calories. Burger King has a "BigKids" meal with a double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milkat 910 calories, and Sonic has a "Wacky Pack" with 830 caloriesworth of grilled cheese, fries, and a slushie.

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

Subway's kids' meals came out the best among the chains examinedin the report. Only 6 of 18 "Fresh Fit for Kids" meals - whichinclude a mini-sub, juice box, and one of several healthful sideitems such as apple slices, raisins or yogurt - exceed the430-calorie threshold. But Subway is the only chain that doesn'toffer soft drinks with kids' meals, which helped lower the caloriecount.

The report notes that eating out now accounts for a third ofchildren's daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed awayfrom home 30 years ago.

"Parents want to feed their children healthy meals, butAmerica's chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail," CSPInutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan said in a statement."McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and other chains are conditioningkids to expect burgers, fried chicken, pizza, French fries,macaroni and cheese, and soda in various combination at almostevery lunch and dinner."

The report also found that 45 percent of children's meals exceedrecommendations for saturated and trans fat, which can raise bloodcholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and 86percent of children's meals are high in sodium.

Christi Woodworth, a spokeswoman for Sonic, said the chain islooking into adding a variety of healthy side items, and plans tointroduce string cheese at 90 calories each in September.

KFC released a statement saying the chain is "proud to offer avariety of kids meals for those looking for lower calorie, lowerfat options." The statement noted that the report's calculationsinclude baked Cheetos and a biscuit, sides that are no longeroffered.

Jack in the Box spokeswoman Kathleen Anthony said while kidsmeals are not a "significant part of our business," parents dohave several healthy items they can select for their children, suchas applesauce and reduced fat milk.

Calls over the weekend to other restaurant chains in the reportwere not immediately returned.

The report recommends restaurants:

Other restaurant chains included in the report are Wendy's,Dairy Queen, Arby's and Denny's.

Six leading restaurant chains -- Applebee's, TGIFriday's, OutbackSteakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and IHOP (International Houseof Pancakes) -- weren't included in the report because they do notdisclose nutrition information about their meals even when asked,the center said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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