Restaurant kids’ meals make nutrition strides, but leave room for improvement

Majority of children’s meal combinations at leading restaurants meet calorie criteria, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

(April 6, 2016) PHILADELPHIA, PA – Eating meals from restaurants has become routine for many American children, often contributing excess calories, solid fats, sodium, and added sugar to diets already lacking in fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Many restaurants have made voluntary changes to their kids’ menus, including reducing the calories in new items, in advance of menu-labeling legislation that will mandate printed calorie counts. However, many kids’ menu items are still high in fat and sodium, leading researchers to question how well children’s meals at top restaurants match national nutritional recommendations.

Using the 2014 Nation's Restaurant News Top 100 Report, researchers identified the top 10 quick-service restaurants (QSR) and full-service restaurants (FSR) that offered a kids’ menu, made nutrition information publicly available, and provided calorie information for all children’s entrees. Using this information, researchers compared calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium from children’s meal combinations with national dietary recommendations to understand the nutritional value of these offerings. They found that many meals met calorie recommendations, but failed to meet recommendations for fat, saturated fat, and sodium levels.

“Improving the availability of healthier kids’ meals is a critical step toward increasing children's exposure to healthier foods, but that alone is not enough,” said lead author Sarah Sliwa, PhD, an instructor at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition. “We encourage restaurants to look holistically at the nutritional value of their children’s meals, and to market healthier options in ways that emphasize taste and appeal to parents and children alike.”

Read the full press release from ChildObesity180 

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