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Not many healthy meals on children’s menus yet

By Sandra Pedicini
Orlando Sentinel

More Information

  • Best, worst restaurant meals for kids

    Best

    • Subway’s roast-beef sub, apple slices and 1 percent milk: 395 calories, 6 grams of fat, 590 mg of sodium.

    • Olive Garden’s cheese ravioli, broccoli and orange juice: 405 calories, 8 grams of fat, 480 mg of sodium.

    • Chick-fil-A’s 4-count grilled chicken nuggets, small fruit cup, low-fat milk: 220 calories, 3 grams of fat, 655 mg of sodium.

    Worst

    • Applebee’s grilled cheese on sourdough with fries and 2 percent chocolate milk: 1,210 calories, 62 grams of fat, 2,340 mg of sodium.

    • Chili’s pepperoni pizza with homestyle fries and soda: 1,010 calories, 45 grams of fat, 2,020 mg of sodium.

    • Denny’s Jr. Cheeseburger and french fries: 980 calories, 55 grams of fat, 1,110 mg of sodium.

    SOURCECenter for Science in the Public Interest



ORLANDO, Fla. Even though children’s nutrition has received lots of attention for the past few years, you’re still more likely to find chicken fingers and fries on menus than wraps and salads.

Ninety-seven percent of major restaurant-chain children’s 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. “They’re 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 aren’t clamoring for fewer calories, less salt and more vegetables. And that’s why many restaurants are making token changes rather than substantial ones, some experts say.

“There’s always been this mentality that people don’t 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.

“It’s kind of a splurge,” Hancy said. “It’s not the most nutritious meal she’ll eat this week. She’s also 3 and very picky, and it’s 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.”

CSPI’s 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 CSPI’s 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 CSPI’s standards, and 11 percent met those of Kids LiveWell.

Darden’s 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 Subway’s meals met the CSPI standards. At IHOP it was 31 percent and at Red Lobster, 28 percent.

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