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Not So Happy Meals


A stunning 97 percent of kids’ meals at top fast food and sit down chain restaurants do not meet expert nutrition standards for children, according to a new report released today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

CSPI studied the nutritional quality of nearly 3,500 meal combinations at the nation’s top 50 restaurant chains, using nutrition standards developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts. Along with assessing the meals with the panel’s standards, CSPI also looked at how the meals measured up against industry guidelines developed by the National Restaurant Association. Those results weren’t much better — 91 percent of the kids’ meals did not meet the association’s Kids LiveWell standards.

CSPI Director of Nutrition Policy Margo Wootan is scheduled to officially unveil the findings at a press conference in Washington, D.C. this afternoon. The Leader will be joined by the spokesman for the restaurant chain that achieved top marks in the new report — Jared Fogle, better known as “the Subway Guy.”

Subway is ranked as the best option for kids’ meals. All of Subway’s kids’ meals combinations meet both sets of nutritional standards, and the sandwich chain offers only apples, apple juice and low-fat milk on the side, the report notes. No soft drinks are offered with children’s meals. 

But Subway appeared to stand alone in the rankings. The next-best chain is IHOP, where 69 percent of meals do not meet the expert standards and 75 percent do not meet the industry standards. CSPI noted that IHOP doesn’t offer beverages with its kids’ meals.

Chains that fared the worst in the report included Buffalo Wild Wings, Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, Chipotle, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Panda Express, Perkins and Popeye’s—where 100 percent of meals failed to meet either set of standards.

CSPI also looked at how the nutritional quality of meals has improved over time, comparing meals to the results of a similar study conducted in 2008. The overall percentage of meals that do not meet the standards decreased, from 99 percent to 97 percent, and more restaurants offer non-soft drink beverages and sides of fruits. However, soft drinks and french fries still are the norm on most kids’ menus.

Restaurants can take a number of steps to improve the quality of their children’s meals, CSPI notes, including offering more fruit and vegetable options, and making them the default side dishes with every meal; removing soft drinks and sugary beverages from kids’ menus; offering more whole grains in meals; providing calorie information for meals on menus and menu boards; and marketing only healthy options to children. CSPI also suggests restaurants join the Kids LiveWell Program and the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.