What are you really feeding your child with a restaurant kids' meal?
Shana Rose Reporting
There's some rather shocking news from a new study on kids' meals.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest looked at the calories, fat and sodium in kids' meals, not just at fast food restaurants, but also chains like Applebee's and Chili's and found some have as many as 1200 calories.
"That's a ridiculous amount of food...That's way too much for one child. It would even be too much food for a teenage football player," says leading obesity expert Dr. Melinda Sothern, Professor and Director of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health.
Many of these restaurants she says just take adult meals, some of which are 3 times the amount of calories a person needs, and downsizes them for the kids.
The study found for example that Applebee's Grilled Cheese with fries and 2% chocolate milk has 1,210 calories, nearly enough to fuel some adults for an entire day. Children under ten generally need a third of that unless they're very active.
Other mid-level restaurants fared just as poorly in the study, with only 3% of the 3500 meals they tested coming in as healthy for children.
And this can affect children for the rest of their lives, says Dr. Sothern. "If young children are exposed to too large of portions, and too much saturated fat and too much sugar early, the literature is emerging that that is altering the brain chemistry."
The study authors conclude parents need to cut soft drinks and juice out of children's diet, and add whole grains, like brown rice and whole wheat pasta. They also say reading the menu labeling can help, " For example, grilled cheese sandwiches vary across restaurants, ranging from 270 calories at Outback Steakhouse to 620 calories at Applebee's."
But they say some kids' meals have gotten healthier, with the old Happy Meal at McDonald's coming in at 590 calories, while the new version cuts down on the french fries, adds apple slices and substitutes milk for soda, now coming in at 450 calories, but with the same amount of saturated fat and sodium.
"Of the 3,498 meal combinations, 97% do not meet the expert nutrition standards for children's meals and 91% do not meet the NRA's Kids LiveWell standards, " the study claims. "Nineteen of the restaurant chains offering children's meals (56%) do not have even one meal that meets the expert nutrition standards and nine chains (26%) do not have one meal that meets the Kids LiveWell standards."