Some 'kids' meals' pack whole
day's serving of calories
The first comprehensive report on kids' meals at popular
fast-food and chain restaurants finds the servings are
far too high in calories for a single meal.
In fact, some of the meals
contain more 1,000 calories, which is almost as many
calories as some elementary-school children need for the
entire day, according to the analysis from Center for
Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group.
The report shows, for instance,
• Chili's country-fried chicken
crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk has 1,020
• KFC's popcorn chicken, baked
beans, biscuit, Teddy Grahams and fruit punch, has 940
• Sonic's Wacky Pack with grilled
cheese, fries and a slushie, has 830 calories.
Overall, the findings reveal that
93% of the kids' meals at McDonald's and Wendy's contain
more than 430 calories, the average number of calories
that children ages 4 to 8 should get at a single meal.
The comparable numbers are 92% at Burger King; 89% at
Dairy Queen; 69% at Arby's; 60% at Denny's. The latter's
kids' meals don't include drinks.
On the healthful side, about 67%
of the kids' meals at Subway have fewer than 430
"When you go to most chain
restaurants, ordering off the kids' menu is a
nightmare," says Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director
for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
and the mother of a 10-year-old daughter.
"Right now kids' meals are almost
all unhealthy meals when they should be almost all
healthy meals," she says "At the very least, restaurants
should list calories on the menu so that parents can
navigate through this minefield of calories and fat to
find the healthy options."
Sheila Weiss, director of
nutrition policy for the National Restaurant
Association, says over the last few years, "there have
been a lot of changes to our restaurant menus,
especially children's meals. More and more options are
available. Restaurants are offering low-fat milk,
yogurt, apples and vegetables as part of the children's
menu. They are helping parents help their children make
wise choices when they dine out."
Elizabeth Ward, a registered
dietitian in Boston with three children and author of
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and
Toddler, says "kids' meals can be outrageously high
in calories, fat, and sodium, but it's possible to go
into just about any restaurant and cobble together a
healthy meal for a child. If the children's menu doesn't
look healthy, you have to look elsewhere."
The average child, under 18, eats
167 restaurant meals in a year, according to the NPD
Group, a market research firm.
"Eating out is no longer a
special occasion, it's a lifestyle now, so we have to be
more selective about what we eat," says Keith Ayoob, who
works with overweight kids at the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine in New York. "This is a wakeup call
that parents need to take advantage of restaurants'
healthier options, especially if kids are going to be
eating out three or more times a week.
"Most kids don't clean their
plates so they are probably not eating all these
calories," he says.
For the latest study,
nutritionists with CSPI analyzed the calories in 1,474
different meal combinations at 13 chain restaurants. The
nutrition information was gathered from the chains'
websites and corporate offices. Many of the restaurants
offer numerous kids' meal combinations and each meal was
CSPI used national nutrition
standard recommendations from different groups to
determine nutrient needs for children. The Institute of
Medicine guidelines recommend that moderately active
children, ages 4 to 8, consume about 1,300 calories a
day. Therefore, the consumer group calculated that a
single meal should not contain more than 430 calories.
The findings showed that overall
45% of the meals are too high in saturated (animal) and
trans fat and 86% were too high in sodium.
Not surprisingly, kids' menus
include mostly foods such as burgers, chicken nuggets,
macaroni and cheese, french fries and soft drinks. Sodas
are the most popular beverage offered to children.
Subway is the only chain that does not offer soda as an
option on kids' meals.
Some healthier alternatives are
available including grilled chicken, seafood,
whole-grain wild rice, yogurt and fruit.
Among the kids' meals that have
fewer than 430 calories and weren't too high in
saturated and trans fats:
• Subway's ham mini-sub, 1% milk
box and apple slices, 405 calories.
• Subway's roast beef (or turkey)
sub with juice box and yogurt, 400 calories.
• Chili's grilled chicken
sandwich, apple juice and mandarin oranges, 338 calories
• Denny's pancakes without meat
with maple syrup, 373 calories; or macaroni and cheese
with grapes, 413 calories. (The meals do not include
• Arby's popcorn chicken or
junior roast beef sandwich, fruit cup and fruit juice,
Some major chain restaurants were
not included in the study because they did not provide
enough nutrition information to evaluate calories. Those
chains included Applebee's, TGIFriday's, Outback
Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and IHOP. Some
places, such as Pizza Hut and Dunkin' Donuts, don't have
kids' menus and weren't included in the report.