ORLANDO, Fla. Even though childrens nutrition has received lots of attention for the past few years, youre still more likely to find chicken fingers and fries on menus than wraps and salads.
Ninety-seven percent of major restaurant-chain childrens meals were deemed unhealthful in a recent report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
I think what most restaurants have done is just add one or two meals that meet nutrition standards and left the rest of the menu very unhealthy, said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Washington-based organization. Theyre still serving up the same old junk they always have.
With Americans spending nearly half of their food budgets on eating out, restaurants have been under pressure from government and health advocates to make meals more healthful, especially for youngsters.
Restaurants say they are making steady progress.
But kids are growing out of these meals earlier, and many parents arent clamoring for fewer calories, less salt and more vegetables. And thats why many restaurants are making token changes rather than substantial ones, some experts say.
Theres always been this mentality that people dont go out to eat healthy, said Julie Casey, an Orlando consultant who helps restaurants make themselves more child-friendly.
Anna Hancy of Orlando agreed with that as her 3-year-old daughter, Henley, ate chicken nuggets and fries at Chick-fil-A.
Its kind of a splurge, Hancy said. Its not the most nutritious meal shell eat this week. Shes also 3 and very picky, and its something she will eat.
Chick-fil-A offers a variety of sides for children, including applesauce and fresh fruit. Last year, it introduced grilled chicken nuggets. The healthier nuggets were never meant to generate blockbuster sales, spokesman Mark Baldwin said in an email, but we felt it was our responsibility to offer a grilled version of our nuggets as a healthier alternative for our nutrition-minded customers.
CSPIs criteria included having no more than 430 calories, 35 percent of them from fat, and 770 mg of salt. It also docked meal combinations with sugar-sweetened drinks. Kids LiveWell standards are similar but allow 600 calories.
Three percent of restaurants meals met CSPIs standards. Fewer than one out of 10 met the KidsLive Well Standards.
Darden Restaurants Olive Garden was in the middle of the pack, though the report noted it offers more-healthful whole-grain pasta. One percent of its meals met CSPIs standards, and 11 percent met those of Kids LiveWell.
Dardens Red Lobster was one of the highest-ranking, with only Subway and IHOP having a greater percentage of meals that got a CSPI thumbs-up. All of Subways meals met the CSPI standards. At IHOP it was 31 percent and at Red Lobster, 28 percent.
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