Push for healthier kids' meals at restaurants falling short, study says

Dining out or going through the drive-thru is a big treat for kids, but how nutritious are the items on the kids' menu?

While restaurants have tried to offer healthier options, a new study shows it might not be enough.

Menu offerings for little ones included the usual burgers, nuggets and pizza. But for the past five years, 15 national fast-food chains and casual-dining restaurants have been working on healthier choices for kids.

Harvard researchers looked at 45 top restaurant chains - comparing those who participated in the voluntary Kids LiveWell program with those who did not. They found that none of the restaurants, regardless of their participation, showed much improvement in nutrition.

"They had the same calories. The same salt. The same fat. There was really no difference," said internal medicine specialist Dr. John de Beixedon.

He said also of concern were the calories kids were getting from drinks.

According to de Beixedon, while the study showed there's less soda on children's menus, restaurants have replaced it with other sugar-sweetened, calorie-laden drinks.

"The kids can have juice. But once again, juice is sugar and it would be better to offer a piece of fruit than it is to offer the juice, because the juice is a concentrated amount of sugar," said de Beixedon.

Kids LiveWell meals were supposed to contain more fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains and be no more than 600 calories.

While the menu items analyzed may not have accurately represented what families were actually ordering, de Beixedon said it's really up to parents to make sure kids eat as healthy as they can when dining out.

"If you can find a restaurant that offers more simple fare, less processed fare, that's what would be healthy. So if the restaurant has fish, that's pretty healthy," he said.

Just make sure it's not fried.

"We need to make sure that families eat together and when they do eat together, the parents need to have a good nutritional model that the children can follow," said de Beixedon.

That means choosing fruits over cookies and water over soda.
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