Nutrition: Restaurants don't always meet nutritiional guidelines with kids' meals

Although childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high, restaurants have not seemed to have completely caught on yet.

A recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that 97 percent of children's meals available at the top restaurant chains don't meet recommended nutritional guidelines. Chicken fingers, burgers and fries continue to take center stage on kids' menus, and recommendations to improve the nutritional value of foods offered to kids have largely gone unanswered.

Recently when eating at a chain Mexican restaurant, I browsed the kids' menu. While there were a variety of choices for entrees, it was unclear by the meal description how the food is prepared. For example, an entree called Chicken Bites could be baked, grilled or fried, so a name like Grilled Chicken Bites would indicate a clearly healthier option. Fruits and veggies were well represented in the menu of side items, but a dessert was also included in each meal. Overall, I was surprised at the large size of the entree portion of the kids' meals and felt that the total amount included in the combination of foods provided in one kids' meal was in excess of what a child of any age needs in one sitting.

Besides, hitting the mark on healthy and nutritious kids' meals is about more than offering slices of fruit as an alternative to fries. It is about serving fresh, high quality foods in child-friendly portions. CSPI's nutrition

Although it is common knowledge that restaurant food is not prepared as healthfully as home-cooked meals, families do want healthier options to choose from when dining out, especially for children. Of 19 common restaurant chains surveyed, nine offered no meals that meet the National Restaurant Association's nutrition standards for kids' meals.

The CSPI recommends that restaurants redo their kids' menus to at a minimum meet the standards of the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell Program. They also suggest that restaurants offer more whole grains, serve fruits or veggies as a default side item instead of fries, and continue to lower the sodium content of meals.

Here are some ways your family can eat healthfully when dining out:

" Speak up and make special request if needed such as "dressing on the side" or "hold the mayo" to cut back on added fat and calories.

" Create a kids' meal out of a combination of regular menu items such as side salads, soups, and side items.

" Share an adult meal. An adult restaurant meal is usually plenty of food to share with a child or split among a few children.

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Nutrition: Restaurants don't always meet nutritiional guidelines with kids' meals

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