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Kids’ Meals Fail Nutrition Standards

Chain Restaurant Drink ChoicesChain restaurants today continue to offer elementary-aged children primarily high-calorie meals of poor nutritional quality, with 97 percent of 3,500 kids’ meals not meeting nutritional guidelines, according to a new report released last week.

Although poor, the meals evaluated as nutritious for four-to-eight year olds has nudged upward since the previous Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) report. That 2008 report found only 1 percent of the kids’ meals met their nutrition standards.

The authors started with the top 50 restaurant chains, discounting the nine that did not have dedicated children’s meals, such as Starbucks Dunkin' Donuts, and Domino’s Pizza. Of the remaining chains, 34 offered nutrition information on their meals.

The report evaluated each meal based on nutrition standards that included:

  • fewer than 430 calories per meal
  • no more than 35% of calories from fat
  • no more than 35% added sugars by weight
  • contains one or more of: 1) 10% of the DV of vitamins A or C, calcium, iron, or fiber, 2) half a serving of fruit or vegetable, or 3) 51% or more (by weight) whole grain ingredients

Meals containing deep-fried items or sugary beverages were automatically categorized as poor nutritional quality.

Fried chicken fingers, burgers, French fries and sugar drinks remained common items for the kids meals, both in 2008 and today. Nineteen of the chain restaurants did not have a single combination of children’s items that met CSPI's nutrition standards, the report found. And nearly half (44 percent) of the restaurant chains did not offer a healthier meal option.

Only one of the restaurants evaluated (Subway) had all of their kids’ meals meet the nutrition standards.

The report authors offer several suggestions for restaurants to improve their offerings, including that restaurants should make fruit and vegetable options, rather than French fries, the default sides. Also, they recommend, chains should offer more whole grains and remove soda or other sugar drinks from kids' menus.

Source: Ameena Batada et al. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “Kids’ Meals II: Obesity and Poor Nutrition on the Menu.” March 2013.

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