Consumer group finds kids' meals chock-full of calories

Center for Science in Public Interest analyzes thousands of kids' meals

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WASHINGTON - Kids' meals at restaurants all over the United States are packed full of calories and are failing when it comes to good nutrition. That's according to a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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The study shows fried chicken fingers and nuggets, fries and soda are the most common items offered to children, and some kids meals contain more than 1,000 calories and are high in sodium and fat.

CSPI worked with a nutrition researcher at the University of North Carolina at Asheville to analyze 3,498 kids' meal combinations from 41 top chain restaurants; 34 chains provided nutrition information for those meals.

The findings:

  • 91% of kids' meals at those chains do not meet the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell menu standards, a voluntary initiative. It recommends healthy kids' meals have 600 calories or less, get 35% or less of their calories from total fat and total sugar, have no more than 770 mg. sodium, and also meet other nutrition criteria. The standards emphasize lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole-grain and low-fat dairy products.
  • Nine of the top chain restaurants, including McDonald's, do not have a single kids' meal that meets the Kids LiveWell standards.
  • 50% of the kids' meals had more than 600 calories.
  • 78% of the chains offer soft drinks as a children's beverage option; 58% offer fruit juices; 40% offer fat-free or 1% low-fat milk; 43% offer high-fat milk (2% or whole).
  • 83% serve fried chicken entrees for kids' meals, 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; 53% offer veggies other than fried potatoes with children's meals; 68% offer fruit. The most common choices: apple slices, applesauce, fruit cups, mandarin oranges and grapes.

Worst kids' meals

The Center for Science in the Public Interest names these as some of the worst kids' meals in terms of calories and other nutrients:

  • Applebee's grilled cheese on sourdough bread, fries, and 2% chocolate milk, 1,210 calories.
  • Chili's pepperoni pizza with homestyle fries and soda, 1,010 calories.
  • Denny's Jr. cheeseburger and french fries (beverages are not included with kids' meals), 980 calories.
  • Ruby Tuesday's mac 'n cheese, white cheddar mashed potatoes and fruit punch, 860 calories.
  • Dairy Queen's chicken strips, kids' fries, sauce, Arctic Rush (a frozen drink), and Dilly Bar, 1,030 calories.

Best kids' meals

  • Applebee's: Grilled chicken sandwich, broccoli, and 1% milk, about 360 calories.
  • Arby's: Junior roast beef sandwich, apple slices and low-fat white milk, 330 calories.
  • Burger King: Kids Meal Hamburger with BK fresh apple slices and fat-free milk, 380 calories.
  • Chick-fil-A: 4 piece grilled chicken nuggets with fruit cup and 1% low-fat milk, 220 calories.
  • Chili's: Grilled chicken platter, steamed broccoli and orange juice, 320 calories.
  • Corner Bakery CafĂ©: Pasta marinara served with a side of fruit medley and low-fat milk. (Analysis does not include dessert selection.), 460 calories.
  • Denny's: Build Your Own Jr. Grand Slam with scrambled egg whites, two slices of turkey bacon, hash browns and orange juice, 360 calories.
  • Friendly's: English muffin and egg sandwich. Scrambled egg whites and American cheese on a large toasted English muffin served with apple slices. Analysis includes water for choice of beverage, 390 calories.
  • Outback Steakhouse: Joey sirloin medallions with broccoli and 100% apple juice, 330 calories.

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