In an effort to appeal to parents—and to keep kids relatively happy—many restaurants and fast food joints have made strides in recent years to cut the sodium and fat from their kids’ meals to match national nutritional recommendations. These new and nutritious kids’ meals were meant to be healthy, yet still taste delicious. Yes? Not quite.
According to new research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, although many kids’ meals featured at major restaurant chains met calorie recommendations, they didn’t meet recommended nutrition guidelines for sodium levels, fat or saturated fat.
Kids’ Meals and Nutrition: The Study
For the study, researchers looked at the 2014 Nation’s Restaurant News Top 100 Report and discovered the top full-service restaurants and quick-service restaurants that:
- Offered kids’ meals or kids menus
- Made nutrition info available to the public
- Provided calorie information for children’s entrées
Researchers then used this data to compare sodium levels, fat and calories from the kids’ meals against the national dietary recommendations.
Over 70% of kids’ meal combos analyzed at the restaurants met nutritional recommendations for calories, less than 25% of kids’ meal combos at full-service restaurants and slightly less than one-third at quick-service restaurants met recommendations for saturated fat, overall fat, calories and sodium levels. In fact, most went over recommended sodium guidelines. Study researchers concluded that improvements in kids’ meals could be made.
Best Food FITS Restaurant Initiatives
Some communities are being proactive and taking vast measures to change kid’s menus. In 2012, a state-sponsored community intervention was held in San Marcos, Texas, in an effort to curb childhood obesity in that area. Approximately 24% of local restaurants agreed to include ‘Best Food for Families, Infants, and Toddlers’ (Best Food FITS) menus at their establishments. These menus offered healthier food and beverage items and fewer unhealthy items.
After researchers analyzed 35 patron surveys, they discovered that a quarter of respondents were aware of the Best Food FITS menu upon arriving at the restaurant, and nearly half noticed the Best Food FITS menu options on the kid’s menu. About 51% of respondents stated that nutrition was an important factor when deciding food choices.
Intervention researchers now suggest that Best Food FITS is a recognized brand in San Marcos and that 24% of non-chain restaurants improved their kid’s menus (hey—it’s a start!)
Researchers conclude that this type of intervention (along with funding) can be adapted in other communities to help change kids’ meals and promote better nutrition for children.
Sliwa, S., et al., “Assessing the Availability of Healthier Children’s Meals at Leading Quick-Service and Full-Service Restaurants,” The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2016.01.004.
“Restaurant kids’ meals make nutrition strides, but leave room for improvement,” EurekAlert! web site, April 6, 2016; http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/ehs-rkm033016.php.