Eating out is a big treat for most families. Parents love the break from cooking and doing the dishes, while kids enjoy eating chicken nuggets in a different setting. Unfortunately, splurging on a restaurant meal may come back to bite you.
According to a new study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), parents are doing their children a disservice by treating them to dinner out. Researchers say menu options offered to children by most U.S. restaurant chains have way too many calories, in addition to dangerously high amounts of salt and fat. In fact, the group maintains that of the 3,500 combinations of kids’ meals it checked out, nearly all failed to meet nutritional standards.
Among the worst offenders was Applebees’ kids’ meal of a grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread, fries and two percent chocolate milk. According to researchers, the seemingly healthy meal features 1,210 calories, 62 grams of fat and 2,340 milligrams of sodium. That’s nearly three times as many calories as the CSPI’s recommendation for kids ages 4 to 8 years old.
Ruby Tuesday’s kids’ combo meal didn’t fare much better, according to the group. The restaurant’s macaroni and cheese, with white cheddar mashed potatoes and fruit punch contains 870 calories, 46 grams of fat and 1700 milligrams of sodium. Compare that to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that children eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt each day, and you can see why treating your child to a restaurant meal is a tricky proposition.
Fortunately, the news is not all bad. The CSPI study cites Subway restaurants’ Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations as a decent option. The company earned high marks for serving apple slices with its kid-sized sub sandwiches and low-fat milk or bottled water instead of soda.
Bottom line: Eating high-fat, high-calorie and high-sodium meals once in a while probably won’t cause your child to become obese, suffer a stroke, or develop coronary disease; however, it’s important to make healthy choices regardless of where you dine.