WASHINGTON - Healthy children's meals at top restaurant chains are slim pickings, according to a report by a nonprofit public health group.
Nearly every possible combination of the children's meals at Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Sonic,
The report, which was released yesterday in Washington, looked into the nutritional quality of kids' meals at 13 major restaurant chains. The center found 93 percent of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories - an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 4 through 8 should consume in a day.
For example, Chili's Bar and Grill has 700 possible kids' meal combinations, but 658, or 94 percent, of those are too high in calories. One Chili's meal composed of country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples, and chocolate milk contained 1,020 calories, while another of cheese pizza, homestyle fries, and lemonade contained 1,000 calories. Burger King has a "Big Kids" meal with a double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk at 910 calories, and Sonic has a "Wacky Pack" with 830 calories worth of grilled cheese, fries, and a slushie.
While there are some healthy choices on restaurant menus, "parents have to navigate a minefield of calories, fat and salt to find them," the report said.
Subway's children's meals came out the best among the chains examined in the report. Only 6 of 18 "Fresh Fit for Kids" meals - which include a mini-sub, juice box, and one of several healthful side items such as apple slices, raisins or yogurt - exceed the 430-calorie threshold. But Subway is the only chain that doesn't offer soft drinks with children's meals, which helped lower the calorie count.
"Parents want to feed their children healthy meals, but America's chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail," CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan said in a statement. "
The report also found that 45 percent of children's meals exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and 86 percent of children's meals are high in sodium.
Christi Woodworth, a spokeswoman for Sonic, said the chain is looking into adding a variety of healthy side items, and plans to introduce string cheese at 90 calories each in September.
KFC released a statement saying the chain is "proud to offer a variety of kids meals for those looking for lower calorie, lower fat options." The statement noted that the report's calculations include baked Cheetos and a biscuit, sides that are no longer offered.
Jack in the Box spokeswoman Kathleen Anthony said while children's meals are not a "significant part of our business," parents do have several healthy items they can select for their children.