Fast Food Will Kill Your Kids! (But Only If You Allow It)



Okay, that was a bit over the top. But so was the recent report that the nation’s fast-food chains should receive an “F” when it comes to the nutritional value of their kids’ meals.

You might find that declaration a bit surprising coming from us, the proponents of healthy eating  –  for every member of the family. And frankly, when we first read the headlines that blared earlier this week (“Kids Meals Flunk Nutrition Test, says Consumer Group!) we thought, Great, more fodder to persuade parents to spend less time at fast-food restaurants.

But then I read deeper: The consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), released a report stating that only 3% of the nation’s kids’ meals at the 50 fast-food restaurants it surveyed met its nutritional standards. What are those standards? A meal must not have more than 430 calories, plus no more than 35% of calories from fat, or more than 10% of calories from saturated plus trans-fat. Additionally, no more than 35% can be added sugars by weight; and no more than 770 milligrams of salt. That’s not all. Meals must include at least a half a serving of a fruit or vegetable, including something that has 51% or more whole grain, or certain levels of fiber or vitamins.

Jeez. I’m not sure if most home-cooked meals meet those standards!

While there’s no doubt any meal that meets CSPI standards is “healthy.” But are those standards realistic for everyday people trying to eat healthier? Not in our view. We try to meet people where they are, then educate and encourage them to make small, healthier options each day.

For many Americans, fast foods are part of their almost everyday diet, not a “treat,” as it may have been in our youth. That’s not going to change overnight.

In the meantime, we must admit that while the unhealthier options at the most popular fast-food chains still give us the creeps, most establishments have  made efforts to offer customers healthier options. In fact, McDonald’s nutritionist didn’t let the CSPI news go unanswered, saying: “We’re making nutrition more mainstream at McDonald’s today…. [We listened] to moms in particular and [recognized] people are becoming more mindful about what they’re putting in their mouth.”

So what does it mean for us? In my view, it’s simple:

The key word: Balance. If you have kids you are going to pull into a fast-food restaurant. That’s a fact. The key is not to do it too often. According to reports more and more families are utilizing fast-food restaurants as, well, their personal chefs.

Going “fast” every couple of weeks is not going to turn your child in a candidate for an obesity poster (as long as you’re preparing healthy meals and they’re getting at least a modicum of exercise regularly). So no matter the nutritional value of whatever kids meal you choose, having one sporadically won’t kill them. Doing so regularly (like three times a week), however, just might send them down the path of All Bad.

Most fast-food chains have worked hard to respond to the national call for healthier meal options, especially for children (Thanks FLOTUS!). In fact when  CPSI conducted the same survey in 2008, only 1% of the nation’s fast-foot restaurants met its standard.

So there has been progress. There can always be more, of course. But no matter what the fast-food restaurants put on their menu, the ultimate responsibility lies with parents to make healthier choices, and to not allow the chains to take their place as their child’s primary chef.


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