As we peruse through the daily newspapers, often a particular article may “capture” us. This was the case when a specific piece on children’s nutrition caught our attention in the LIFE section of USA Today. The article reports on how many calories are in many of the kids’ meals at chain restaurants. The foods most often offered to our children are fried chicken fingers and nuggets, sodas, and fries, not to mention the occasional grilled cheese sandwich, pizza, or macaroni and cheese. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, many kids’ meals contain more than 1000 calories and are high in sodium and fat. “The government’s dietary guidelines recommend that children ages 4 to 10 consume 1,200 to 2,200 calories a day.”

The public-interest center and the University of North Carolina-Asheville analyzed 3,498 children’s meals from 41 top chains, with 34 of the chains providing nutritional information on the meals. Here are the results:

  • 91% of the meals do not meet the National Restaurant Association‘s Kids LiveWell menu standards. This voluntary initiative recommends that “healthy kids’ meals contain 600 calories or less, get 35% or less of their calories from total fat and total sugar, have no more than 770mg of sodium, and meet other nutrition criteria.
  • 50% of the kids’ meals have more than 600 calories.
  • 78% of the chains offer soft drinks as a kids’ beverage option; 40% offer fat-free or 1% low-fat milk.
  • 83% serve fried-chicken entrees such as chicken fingers or nuggets, 35% serve grilled chicken; 65%, hamburgers.
  • 73% of kids’ menus offer fried potatoes such as French fries and potato chips: 58% offer vegetables other than fried potatoes with children’s meals: 68% offer fruit.

Some chains have made headway, but you need to be cautious when ordering:

Subway’s children’s meals offer apple slices, water, apple juice, or 1% low-fat milk, and they meet the nutritional standards for calories, sodium, and fat.

Applebee’s has a grilled chicken sandwich, broccoli, 1% milk, about 360 calories.  However, they also offer grilled cheese on sourdough bread, fries, and 2% chocolate milk, 1210 calories!

Corner Bakery Café features pasta marinara with a side of mixed fruit, and low-fat milk, 460 calories.

Chili’s offers a grilled chicken platter, steamed broccoli, and orange juice, for 30 calories. However, they also offer a pepperoni pizza with homestyle fries, and soda, 1010 calories!

Burger King has a kids’ meal hamburger, with BK fresh apple slices, and fat-free milk, 380 calories.

This short list is only a small example of the many restaurant chains, and the different selections we all must consider when ordering food for and with our grandchildren. Most importantly, we as parents and grandparents must guide our children to choose and order nutritious foods. And, by the way, we must be the examples and make wise choices for ourselves.

From USA Today article, LIFE section, pg. 3D, Thursday, March 28th, 2013, “Most kids’ meals at chain restaurants have some grown-way-up calories”.