Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kids' Meals

Wherever you go there you are. But when you’re on a literal and not spiritual journey, it might be more accurate to say, wherever you go….there’s an Olive Garden. Or an Applebees. Or a Subway.

That fact was confirmed on my recent two-day road trip, but the truth is these chains are not popping up because of infrequent travelers like me. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Americans spend almost half their food dollars on restaurant meals.

So it makes sense that the Center for Science in the Public Interest would take a look at kids’ meals at these restaurants as they did in the study released last month, Kids’ Meals: Obesity on the Menu.

I’d seen the story in The New York Times about this study shortly before we headed home on our 850-mile drive. But I didn’t spend time reading the story until I set about to do four loads of laundry upon our return. Frankly, my mother’s intuition tells me that, when on the road, the kids should eat whatever is thoroughly cooked and least likely to make them sick in the short term. When in Rome, or let’s say a pizza joint, order the pizza.

But the center’s study speaks to a larger point, much bigger than a traveler's needs. A few things stand out.

First, when the center compared the success of kids’ meals at major restaurant chains in meeting standards in calorie limits, sodium, sugar and other goals for healthful eating, established by the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Kids LiveWell program, 91% failed.

Second, the one chain whose options are head and shoulders above the rest in meeting the goals: Subway. Kudos, by which I mean apple slices, to Subway.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has some pretty straight-forward suggestions for the chains that aren’t doing as well. They could, they suggest, try to meet the standards for kids’ meals that they, the restaurants, actually created. And they could do common sense things such as remove soft drinks from the children’s menu, offer more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and only present these healthy choices to kids in their marketing.

When you sit down at a booth and hand a kid a menu, there is something special about the occasion. Eating out is fun. But consider this description the Center gives for one kids’ meal option: “The children's meal with the most sodium is the Mini Corn Dogs, French Fries, and Milk at Buffalo Wild Wings. That meal contains 3,200 mg of sodium, twice the recommended intake of sodium for a child for an entire day.”

Can you imagine pouring a teaspoon of salt all over your four-year-old’s lunch?

Perhaps corn dogs and french fries are not the epitome of a healthy meal, no matter the sodium. But that goes back to a more fundamental issue, one that demands a stronger look at how we value children: what goes on the kids' menu in the first place.

This week's post on The Educated Mom looks at a trend in TV shows for preschoolers.


Lunch Box Mom said...

Wherever you go there you are. But when you’re on a literal and not spiritual journey, it might be more accurate to say, wherever you go….there’s an Olive Garden. Or an Applebees. Or a Subway.

Tim Morrissey said...

Toni and I have often thanked our lucky stars that when the kids were young and we travelled, they were more interested in finding a place that served gyros (which they considered a delicacy, as purveyed by Papa Coronoupolous on Madison's East Side) or an establishment that might have a blueberry muffin. This necessitated travelling a few more miles off the Interstate in search of such a place - which became a minor adventure in and of itself - but was far more rewarding and healthy that simply pulling in to the McDonalds that was a few feet off the interstate.