97% of Kids' Meals at Chain Restaurants Fail Nutrition Test

4:46 PM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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(WUSA 9) -- Can you guess how many calories are in an Applebee's grilled cheese on sourdough with fries and 2 percent chocolate milk? 1,210 calories.  And that's a kids' meal.

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest claims that 97 percent of kids' meals at chain restaurants fail to meet the CSPI nutrition criteria.

That would mean almost 3,500 meal possibilities not meeting the criteria which states that meals must not exceed 430 calories.  More than 35 percent of calories from fat or more than 10 percent of calories from saturated plus trans fat.

That Applebee's grilled cheese meal? One of the worst offenders.  It contains almost 800 calories more than the recommended amount and three times as much sodium more than the recommended amount.

Yet, there are still thousands of meals similar to this.  CSPI reports that chicken fingers, burgers, fries and sugar drinks still inundate the menu.

"One out of every three American children is overweight or obese, but it's as if the chain restaurant industry didn't get the memo," said CSPI nutrition policy director, Margo G. Wootan.   "Most chains seem stuck in a time warp, serving up the same old meals based on chicken nuggets, burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries and soda."

Subway was the one single chain that passed the criteria for all of its kids' meals combinations, according to the report.  Instead of allowing kids to choose sugary drinks, Subway only offers low-fat milk or bottled water for all eight of its kids' meals, making it the only chain restaurant to restrict sugary drinks.

Although one restaurant has improved its nutritional value, 19 chains still do not offer a single kids' meal combination that fits CSPI's criteria.

CSPI did its last nutritional review of kids' meals at chain restaurants in 2008.  Not surprising, they report little progress since then and encourage these restaurants to make changes.

"The chain restaurant industry is conditioning kids to accept such a narrow range of foods," said Ameena Batada, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville.  "More chains are adding fruit, like apple slices, to their menus, but practically every chain could be adding more vegetable and whole grain options.  And given the impact of sugar drinks on children's health, those should be eliminated from kids' meals at restaurants." 

According to the CSPI, some of the worst kids' meals at chain restaurants include:


  • Applebee's Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with Fries and 2 Percent Chocolate Milk has 1,210 calories with 62 grams of total fat (46 percent of calories), 21 grams of saturated fat (16 percent), and 2,340 milligrams of sodium.  That meal has nearly three times as many calories, and three times as much sodium, as CSPI's criteria for four-to eight-year-olds allow.
  • Chili's Pepperoni Pizza with Homestyle Fries and Soda has 1,010 calories, 45 grams of total fat (40 percent of calories), 18 grams of saturated fat (16 percent of calories, and about as much saturated fat as an adult should consume in an entire day),  and 2,020 milligrams of sodium.
  • Denny's Jr. Cheeseburger and French Fries has 980 calories, 55 grams of total fat (50 percent of calories), 20 grams of saturated fat (18 percent) and 1,110 mg of sodium.  Denny's does not include beverages with kids' meals.
  • Ruby Tuesday's Mac 'n Cheese, White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, and Fruit Punch has 860 calories, 46 grams of total fat (48 percent of calories) and 1,730 mg of sodium.  Ruby Tuesday's does not disclose saturated or trans fat content on its menus or website.
  • Dairy Queen's Chicken Strips, Kids' Fries, Sauce, Arctic Rush (a Slushee-type frozen drink) and Dilly Bar has 1,030 calories, 45 grams of total fat (39 percent of calories), 15 grams of saturated fat (13 percent of calories), and 1,730 mg of sodium.





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