The report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest looked into the nutritional quality of kids’ meals at 13 top restaurant chains (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen, Arby’s, Chili's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, Denny’s, and Subway).
Chili's has 700 possible kids' meal combinations, including one comprised of country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk (1,020 calories), while another comprised of cheese pizza, homestyle fries, and lemonade (1,000 calories). Burger King has a “Big Kids” meal with a double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk (910 calories), and KFC has a "Laptop Meal" with 940 calories worth of popcorn chicken, baked beans, biscuit, Teddy Grahams, and fruit punch.
Subway’s kids’ meals came out the best among the chains examined in the report. Only 6 of 18 “Fresh Fit for Kids” meals — which include a mini-sub, juice box, and one of several healthful side items such as apple slices, raisins or yogurt — exceed the 430-calorie threshold. But Subway is the only chain that doesn’t offer soft drinks with kids’ meals, which helped lower the calorie count.
Six restaurant chains — Applebee’s, TGIFriday’s, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and IHOP (International House of Pancakes) — weren’t included in the report because they do not disclose nutrition information about their meals even when asked, the center said.
Related Article: Fast Food Dilemma: Order the Small Fries or Splurge on the Large?
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I see two issues here.
The first (and most important) one is PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Parents should be setting an example and making good food choices for themselves and their family. It is possible (though difficult) to make good food choices and go to some of these restaurants. We can get them to offer healthier food by voting with our pocketbook.
It is difficult to change the high caloric junk food menu of most restaurants because of issue number 2. JUNK FOOD HAS A PHYSICALLY ADDICTIVE SIDE TO IT. Restaurants know this and they construct a meal to be highly addictive so you will come back for more and do it more often. That only makes financial sense to them.
Here are a few posts that illustrate these points:
When Does A Happy Meal Become Sad
Why Is Junk Food So Addictive?
Heart Disease Starts In Childhood
Restaurant meals are designed to have a High Glycemic Index
Dr David Ludwig of Boston's Children's Hospital has done several studies on overweight teenagers.
In one, he tested the idea that a high-Glycemic Index breakfast makes people hungrier at lunch. A dozen obese boys were fed three different breakfasts, all with the same calories - a low-GI vegetable omelet and fruit, medium-GI oats or high-GI instant oatmeal.
At noon, they could eat as much as they wanted. Those who started the day with instant oatmeal wolfed down nearly twice as much as those getting the veggie omelet.
Ludwig says overweight people do not need to starve themselves. On a low-GI diet, they can eat enough to feel satisfied and still lose weight.
In a pilot study, he tested this on 14 overweight adolescents. They were put on two different regimens - a standard low-cal, low-fat, high-carb diet and a low-GI plan that let them eat all they wanted. After one year, the low-GI volunteers had dropped three kg of pure fat. The others had put on nearly two kg. Now he is repeating the study on 100 heavy teenagers.
I always feel terrible when I see overweight children. I think that as parents we have to be responsible for keeping our kids healthy. It would be nice if eating out had more healthy choices.
I agree completely with your first comment about personal responsibility and the addictive nature of junk food.
While it's true that most restaurant meals have a high GI, I don't believe people should make their food choices based entirely on the glycemic index.
According to Dr. John McDougall - "Sugars actually have a very low glycemic index (GI), and according to the popular practice of judging foods based solely on GI, you would be making healthier choices by eating chocolate cake, instead of carrots—or cheese-topped pizza, rather than potatoes. Candies and ice cream, because of their high simple sugar and fat content, are absorbed from the gut into the body slowly; therefore these widely acknowledged “junk foods” have lower GI values than so-believed “health-foods,” like whole grain breads and brown rice."
"Worldwide, populations of hundreds of millions of people who eat high GI potatoes (Peruvians) and rice (Asians) are trim and active for a lifetime. Compare this worldwide observation to populations of obese people living in the USA, Australia, and Western Europe who feast daily on low GI sugars, fats, meats, and cheeses."
The McDougall Newsletter: Glycemic Index–Not Ready for Prime Time
Heidi, I agree. Kids don't know what is best for them. I hope that all restaurant chains will eventually post the calorie content on their menus because I believe that will help all people make better choices for themselves and their children.
I found this shocking too, when similar statistics came out for the UK. I took my toddlers to a restaurant the other day, which had won an award for its children's meals. They will not eat meat and so the only veggie option for them was cheesy pasta, which they do not like. I ended up having to buy them a plate of chips between them as the baked potatoes were so expensive and I was not paying so I felt guilty about ordering it and also I felt it would probably have been just as unhealthy as I expect it would have been smothered with cheese and butter. Since seriously trying to be more healthy I have avoided take outs and eating out as I think it is a very expensive way to put on weight very easily!
These kids won't have a fighting chance at health if they are fat and addicted to this stuff from a young age. That breaks my heart. But it is up to parents to take responsibility and teach their kids about healthy choices and proper nutrition and hopefully, exercise. All because the stuff is out there doesn't mean we have to eat it. Too bad we don't see more health food resturants becoming more mainstream.
I work in a retail setting, surrounded by fast food shops and it's appalling to see the size of some of the people (adults and kids) entering and exiting them. Some of these kids don't have a chance at a healthy diet/lifestyle.
Rachel - You are so right. Eating out is an expensive way to put on weight. Cooking at home is much more economical and you know what your kids are eating.
Smushpants - I agree with you. Parents have to take the lead. And like Jeff said, we can vote by using our pocketbooks. That's the only way we're going to get healthier options. It's all about supply and demand.
Book-it - I agree. It is terribly sad. We've go frequently to a waterpark in Little Rock and it always shocks me to see such a high number of morbidly obese adults and children. At least they're getting some exercise but it's still sad to see.
i agree with everyone above me. it's all about personal responsibility. yeah, menus do have foods that can cause obesity if that's all they eat, but there is this liuttle thing called a balanced diet parents should try if they're worried about their child's weight.
I can't tell you how tired I am about hearing how its the restuaraunts fault America is getting obese. That is so not ture. It's our own fault. We have made that choice.
sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent, there. I enjoy your blog. I'll be coming back soon!
Mystery Man - You're right. Parents must take the lead and feed their children properly. Thanks for stopping by! :)
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