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Healthy Fast Food for Kids a Tall Order?

Watchdog Group Finds Most Kids' Fast Food Meals Are Unhealthy, but Industry Contends Healthy Choices Exist

Kids' Fast Food Meals: Industry Responds

Spokespeople from the fast food industry say they do offer healthful options for young diners and are trying to improve the offerings even more.

"KFC is proud to offer a variety of Kids Meals for those looking for lower-calorie, lower-fat options," Rick Maynard, a company spokesman, says in an email interview. He says that some kids' meals at KFC do offer less than 430 calories, such as a meal of two crispy strips, green beans, Teddy Grahams, and a diet drink, which totals 380 calories.

In a statement, Heather Krasnow, a spokeswoman for Burger King, says they offer nutritionally healthy choices, such as the kids' meal launched this summer -- macaroni and cheese, fresh apple fries, and Hershey's 1% low fat milk. It totals 315 calories, according to the nutrition guide on the company web site.

The trend among restaurants is to offer consumers more choices and nutritional information, says Mike Donohue, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association. "A 2007 consumer survey [conducted by the association] showed that four out of five customers said there were more healthy options available and more food choices available than there were two years earlier."

Kids' Fast Food Meals: Expert Advice

Besides checking out the nutrition facts of fast food restaurants, what can parents do?

"Look for grilled or baked items, such as grilled chicken or grilled lean burgers, and avoid fried foods," says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Choose low-fat or skim milk, or 100% fruit juice, over other beverages that simply provide calories without nutritional value.

"Milk and juices typically come in small portions appropriate for children," she tells WebMD. "However, sodas and shakes made for kids are often more than enough for an adult."

Kids' Fast Food Meals: CSPI's Bottom Line

The solution, says Jacobson, is an overhaul of existing menu items to reduce overall calories, fat, and sodium and to increase options such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Another recommendation, he says, is to make fruit or vegetables and low-fat milk or water the default side dishes instead of french fries and soda for the kids' meals. Disney does this in its theme parks, Jacobson tells WebMD, and it has been successful, with more than 70% of parents choosing the healthier options when those are the default offering.

Restaurants should routinely post nutrition information on menus and menu boards, as is required by policies passed in New York City, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and elsewhere, he says.


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