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Beware the kid's meal?

August 5, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
Hold onto your keyboard ...

A study conducted by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest has revealed that (gasp) fast food meals for children are too high in calories!

An article on the CNN.com health channel today gives details of the report. It states that most fast food joints' kids' meals pack more than 430 calories. Four hundred and thirty calories is one-third the amount a child ages 4-8 should consume in one day, according to the feds. Therefore, the researchers say, any more than 430 calories is too high for one meal.

Ninety-three percent of the kids' meals at 13 national restaurant chains are too calorie-dense, the researchers found.

Is this really a surprise? I mean, don't we all know that fast food is, for the most part, unhealthy and high in calories?

It's also no shocker that Subway came out the rosiest in the report: "Only six of 18 'Fresh Fit for Kids' meals -- which include a mini-sub, juice box and one of several healthful side items such as apple slices, raisins or yogurt -- exceed the 430-calorie threshold." That's good, but then you have to consider if you want your kid eating processed meat.

Moving from the inane to the absurd, the center's nutrition policy director, Margo G. Wootan, is quoted in the CNN article: "Parents want to feed their children healthy meals, but America's chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail. McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and other chains are conditioning kids to expect burgers, fried chicken, pizza, french fries, macaroni and cheese and soda in various combinations at almost every lunch and dinner."

Huh?

First, I don't take my child for fast food for "almost every lunch and dinner" and I don't know anyone who does.

Yes, we eat out more than I would like. After doing some research about a year ago, I discovered my best bet for Emma is a Wendy's kid's meal of chicken nuggets, mandarin oranges and white milk. Checking the info at the Wendy's Web site again today, I discovered that combo comes in at 443 calories. That would be considered "too high" by the center's study.

Yet, Wendy's fries in non trans-fat oil, and its nuggets taste the most like chicken of all of them. The meal has 20 grams of protein. Is it the ideal meal? No. Is it cheap, relatively healthy and fast? Yes. And, of course, Emma loves it.

A second option is McDonald's fruit and yogurt parfait: 160 calories, 2 grams of fat and 4 grams of protein, plus a bonus gram of fiber. It's not quite hearty enough for a meal, but it has saved me on road trips when Emma's tummy is grumbling. The biggest downside is having to clean goopy yogurt drippings off the car seat straps.

After reading the CNN.com article, I think I'll try Subway more often, too ... when the need arises.

The point is, parents have tons of options when feeding their children -- many more options than they used to! I'm grateful for the oranges and apples and other fresh food on the menus, for myself as well as my daughter.

I know it's harder when the children get older. They want what everyone else is eating. But if your family -- that means you, too, moms and dads! -- makes a habit of choosing healthier options, then you are sure to have an impact on your children's eating habits in the long run.

And, by the way, I am a firm believer in the moderation theory: Let 'em have a Big Mac, fries and a chocolate shake, if that's what they want, every once in awhile. Let's also not forget -- and I need to take my own advice here -- that more of us could plan ahead, make a few changes in our grocery lists and prepare more healthy meals at home.

Nutrition and calorie-consciousness couldn't be any more important of a parenting issue as our nation's children continue to tip the scales. But I don't need a researcher to tell me fast food is high in calories. And I certainly don't plan to let any restaurant chain set me up to fail.

 
 

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