For many parents, finding healthy fast-food meal choices for their kids, amid often hectic schedules of soccer practices, teacher conferences, and school plays, is difficult, to say the least.
Although there has been some improvement in healthy meal choices for fast-food kids’ meals, said Middlesex Hospital dietitian, Ann Purcell-Murray, it hasn’t been significant.
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviorrecently found that about 72 percent of kids’ meals at fast-food restaurants meet recommended calorie counts. But three-quarters of those restaurants had levels of sodium and saturated fat that were too high.
According to Purcell-Murray, “The biggest challenge in fast food choices is to find real fruits and vegetables, if you can. And water or milk (not chocolate milk), instead of soda or fruit juice, are both healthier choices for children.”
She adds that it is important for parents to focus on the levels of sodium in food, since this is the ingredient that most quickly adds up. She urges parents to keep healthy snacks available for the kids in the car to snack on between activities, such as dried fruit or whole grain crackers.
In this way, parents train their children’s palates to prefer the healthier types of food items that are lower in sodium, fat and calories.
Purcell-Murray advises parents to stay away from soda. “There are ten teaspoons of sugar in a 12-ounce can of cola,” she warns. And chicken is not always a good option, especially if it’s breaded and fried.” She recommends that parents go to the websites of fast-food restaurants before they find themselves in the drive-through. This way, they can plan ahead to order better choices for their kids.
“Children learn what parents teach them when it comes to food choices,” Purcell-Murray explains.
The UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has analyzed the calories, fat, sugar and sodium in more than 3,000 possible combinations that fast-food chains market as kids’ meals. To see top rankings of the best kids’ meal combinations, go to http://www.fastfoodmarketing.org/media/-