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Most Restaurant Kids' Meals Packed With Calories

7:22 AM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- Most kids' meals at the USA's top chain restaurants are still failing to make the grade when it comes to good nutrition, a new analysis finds.

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, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The government's dietary guidelines recommend that children ages 4 to 10 eat 1,200 to 2,200 calories for the entire day.

"This is really disappointing," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for CSPI. "Restaurants should be doing better."

The findings come after many restaurants have made some strides in offering healthier fare on kids' menus, including serving more fruit, vegetables and fat-free and low-fat milk.

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 show:

-- 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.

Read more here: www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/28/unhealthy-kids-meals-restaurants/2019267/