Kids' meals failing?

Restaurant kids' meal receive failing grades for nutrition

Published On: Mar 28 2013 06:11:56 PM EDT
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A well-known consumer advocacy group has released a new report on kids' meals and says many big restaurant chains are failing when it comes to nutritional standards. This new report comes from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Many parents tell Ruth to the Rescue they struggle to find healthier options for their children.

"I think a lot of the kids meals out there are very unhealthy, a lot of them don't give good options," said Alison Woodington, of Allen Park.

"Well, we don't eat out a lot because of that," added Leah Chance of Southwest Detroit, "When you go out, there's not a whole lot to choose from."

What's Inside Those Kids' Meals?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest analyzed kids' meals at many of the top restaurant chains in America. It says 97 percent of the nearly 3,500 meal possibilities did not meet the Center's established nutritional requirements. According to the Center's standards, the average meal for children should not exceed 430 calories. It also measures other things like sodium levels and saturated fats.

There's another statistic that jumps out from this new report. The CSPI also looked at the meal in regards to nutrition standards set by the National Restaurant Association. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says 91 percent of the kids meals do not even meet the standards set by the restaurant industry's lobbying group Kids
LiveWell Program.

At 19 chains, the Center says not a single combination of items offered for children met CSPI's nutrition standards.

Here are some of the least healthy kids' meals according to the CSPI:

*Applebee's Grilled Cheese on Sourdough Bread with Fries and 2 percent Chocolate Milk- 1,210 calories
*Ruby Tuesday's Mac 'm Cheese, White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes and Fruit Punch 860 calories
*Denny's Jr. Cheeseburger and French Fries 980 calories
*Chili's Pepperoni Pizza with Homestyle Fries and Soda 1,010 calories

The CSPI also says at nine of those 19 chains not a single kids' meal met the standards set by the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell standards. Those chains included McDonald's, Popeye's, Chipotle, and Hardee's.

It says at Wendy's only 5 percent of 40 possible kids' meals met CSPI's standards, and at Burger King, just 20% of the 15 possible kids' meals meat the CSPI criteria.

The last time the CSPI reviewed kids' meal was back in 2008.

Giving Parents A Choice

Some restaurants like Applebee's have a wide range of caloric totals for their kids meals. For instance, its Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Fries and Chocolate Milk has more than 1,200 calories. On the same menu, the Grilled Chicken Sandwich, Broccoli, and Milk have about 360 calories.

A spokesman for Applebee's told Ruth to the Rescue its menu gives families a choice about what kind of meals to buy for their children. He also said the chain plans to further expand its Kids LiveWell menu offerings in the next year.

Which Chain Gets Kudos?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the one chain that seems to be getting the message is Subway. It says all eight of the Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations on the Subway menu meet the Center's standards. Plus, the chain does not offer sugar drinks as an option with its kids meals.

Some of the moms we spoke with agree that Subway is one of the better options out there.

"They do offer healthier choices and no fried foods," said Leah Chance of Southwest Detroit.

Ruby Tuesday's Responds

The popular chain of Ruby Tuesdays is also responding to the new report. A spokesperson released this statement on the chain's behalf. It's also touting variety and choice as key elements on its menu.

"Offering better-for-you food is a primary objective at Ruby Tuesday, Inc. Our culinary team strives to create dishes that not only provide kids a wide variety of foods to choose from, but are also balanced and have a good selection of fruits and vegetables. We removed French fries as a side option on the kids’ menu a few years back (they're still available by request) and weave noticed a shift in preference from our younger diners. They’re ordering more grilled chicken, fruits and veggies. Ruby Tuesday offers grilled chicken as a lean protein option and our kids’ menu side choices include grapes, fresh grilled zucchini, apples, sugar snap peas, fresh grilled green beans, broccoli, and white cheddar mashed potatoes. This allows the parents healthier fare for their children if they choose. Another favorite amongst our younger diners is the Create Your Own Garden Bar. Our Garden Bar is loaded with fresh vegetable choices and provides endless combinations. Also, we removed all added transfats out of our food close to two years ago."