Posts Tagged ‘ fast food ’

Do Fast-Food Ads Fail When it Comes to Healthy Foods?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

For many, it might seem that having fast food outlets offer—and then promote—more nutritious items are steps in a more healthful direction. As I covered in a recent Scoop on Food post, fast-food chains are increasingly (albeit sparingly) offering more healthful options. And McDonald’s recently agreed to promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals and to include fun messages about nutrition or well-being in all its advertising aimed at children. Despite these initiatives, there’s evidence that fast food giants are falling short when it comes to advertisements for healthy meals aimed at children.

In a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, Dartmouth researchers sought to determine how children depicted images of healthy foods in television advertisements for kids’ meals by McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants. Ninety-nine kids between the ages of 3 and 7 were shown in sequence two still images of the milk and apple slices and were asked, “What do you see in this picture?”

Researchers found that only 52% and 70% of the children (mostly older children) correctly identified milk from the McDonald’s and Burger King images, respectively. Eighty percent of children correctly identified apples from the McDonald’s image while only 10% correctly identified apples from the Burger King image. Although French fries weren’t shown in either image, 80% of the children thought they saw French fries in the Burger King ad, while only 4% thought they saw French fries in the McDonald’s ad. The researchers concluded that of the 4 healthy food images shown to the children, only the depiction of apples by McDonald’s was communicated adequately. Younger kids had a harder time identifying milk and Burger King’s depiction of apple slices misled the children, although no federal or regulatory actions were taken to correct this.

According to “Fast Food FACTS 2013,” a report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, while most restaurants offer healthier sides and beverages in their kids’ meals, they still have a long way to go to promote only healthier fast-food options to kids. The report encouraged fast food restaurants to stop marketing directly to children and teens to encourage consumption of unhealthy fast food. It also recommended that fast food companies limit advertising on children’s TV networks and third party kids’ websites to healthy kids’ meals only.

When asked if he supports marketing of healthy foods to children, James D. Sargent, co-author of the JAMA Pediatrics study, said, “Personally and professionally, as a pediatrician, I am against any marketing to children under the age of 12 years. Many children in that age range are unable to even grasp the concept that marketing is someone trying to sell them something. It is only at about age 12 that children are developmentally capable of understanding that companies pay marketing firms to design ads aimed at persuading them to buy a product, a message that they should view with a certain amount of skepticism. Prior to that age, any message aimed at selling products seems unethical to me.”

Although Sargent doubts that limits on food marketing aimed at children will be established in the near future, he believes that companies that decide to market to young children should be held to very high communications standards. At the very least, Sargent says they should “design and test their messages to ensure that they mainly communicate information about the product (not the premium) and that most children are receiving that message.” He adds, “If Burger King and McDonald’s agree to promote messages about healthy food, we should be able to show that children come away from the advertisements saying they saw healthy food.”

Some think children should not be targets when it comes to food marketing, period. In their post, The Dark Side of Marketing Healthy Foods to Children, Susan Linn, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Michele Simon, a public health attorney, argue against marketing food—healthy or not—to children to best protect them. They say, “By begging and pleading with the food industry to improve how it markets to children, instead of working to end food marketing to children entirely, we are continuing to endorse a failed system in which industry gets to set the rules, break them whenever it pleases, and then take credit for doing the right thing.”

What’s your opinion?

Image of McDonalds Drive-Thru via shutterstock.

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Traveling? Better Fast Food Options for Kids

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

If your seasonal plans include traveling by plane, train or automobile, it’s likely you and your kids will experience at least a few moments when you’re hungry but find that the pickings (let alone nutritious ones) are slim.

Of course it’s always wise to plan ahead and arm yourselves with at least a few smart, portable, non-perishable travel snacks to have in-between meals (or just in case). A few better bets include nuts and nut butters; unsweetened dried fruit; high fiber, lower sugar whole grain ready-to-eat cereals; whole grain crackers; and low sugar granola and snack bars. But when it’s time for a real meal—and for those times when you find fast food to be among the few (if any) options—how do you help your kids choose the most nutritious, energizing picks?

The following restaurants participate in the Kids LiveWell Program, a collaboration between Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association. The program works with restaurants to provide more menu options that emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and that meet stringent nutritional criteria. Each full kids’ meal (includes an entrée, side option and beverage) includes items from at least 2 food groups and meets the following Healthy nutrition criteria defined by the Kids LiveWell Program: 600 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only); ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤770 mg of sodium. Each side option must represent 1 food group and meets the following Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria: 200 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams artificial trans fat; ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤250 mg of sodium.

The good news is that dozens of chains including Wendy’s®, Burger King® and Au Bon Pain® participate. Here are some the better-for-you bets if these outlets are among your options:


  • Kids’ Meal that includes a Grilled Chicken Go Wrap served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.
  • Kids Meal that includes a Kids’ Hamburger served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.

Other side options available include Juicy Juice® Apple Juice and Nestle® Pure Life® Bottled Water.

You can learn more about Wendy’s nutrition here.

Burger King®:

  • Kids’ Meal Breakfast Oatmeal with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk
  • Kid’s Hamburger with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk

Other available side: Apple Juice

You can learn more about Burger King® menu items and nutrition here.

Au Bon Pain®:

  • Egg Whites and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich

Other side options available include: Oatmeal, Fruit Cup, Grapes or Watermelon.

Visit the Au Bon Pain® menu here.

Although McDonald’s is not part of the Kids LiveWell Program, it recently announced (as I covered in a recent Scoop on Food post) it’ll offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals and will promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals. Also notable is that Happy Meals now include apple slices. McDonald’s also offers some favorites under 400 calories. Options your kids might like include:

  • Fruit and Maple Oatmeal (I recommend asking for it made without brown sugar or light cream)
  • Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait—a  low fat vanilla yogurt layered with blueberries and strawberries and topped with granola.
  • Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, served with Newman’s Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing (You can save some fat and calories by using only a half packet of dressing).

Visit the McDonald’s® menu here.

Subway® offers Fresh Fit for KidsTM meals that pair Turkey Breast, Veggie Delight, Black Forest Ham or Roast Beef sandwiches with fresh apple slices and a 12-ounce bottle of low fat milk. They also offer 100% juices including apple and orange juice. There are also Fresh Fit® choices (options that can work for older kids with bigger appetites and adults) certified as heart healthy by the American Heart Association. You can see the Subway menu here.

Last but not least, there’s Dunkin Donuts®. Although pickings are indeed slim at the popular donut/bagel chain, Dunkin Donuts® may be (somewhat) worth the trip because of their DDSmart and Fewer Than 400 (calorie) options including:

  • Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap
  • Egg & Cheese on English Muffin

You can see their complete menu here.

To make better fast food selections all around, you can download the Kids LiveWell App (it’s free) here. It features more than 4,000 menu items served at more than 60,000 participating restaurants across the country.

And for more tips to save money when you shop for healthier fast food, check out this video with Parents health director Kara Corridan.

What’s your favorite nutrient-packed (or at least not-so-bad-for-you) fast food meal?

Image of mother and son having a meal in the airplane while flying via

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Nutrient-Poor Food in Kids’ Diets: Where Does It Lurk?

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Although fast-food is often blamed for contributing tons of empty calories to kids’ diets, it’s just one source. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that while 34.6% of calories consumed by kids from fast-food restaurants (including pizza home delivery, restaurant food, and food from vending machines and sports/recreation facilities) did, in fact, come from solid fats and added sugars (collectively referred to as SoFAS), foods consumed from stores (including supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores) and schools (including school cafeterias and child-care centers) were similar to fast foods in their SoFAS content, with SoFAS contributing 33.2% of calories from stores and 31.2% of calories from schools. These findings came from an analysis of national survey data of dietary intake collected between 1994 and 2010 from more than 22,000 children aged 2 to 18.

In another study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the same researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill analyzed the dietary intake of more than 3,000 children aged 2 to 18 in 2009-2010. Similar to the findings from the 1994-2010 analysis, this study revealed that empty calories account for 35% of kids’ calories from fast-food restaurants, 33% of calories from stores, and 32% of calories from schools. Interestingly, store-bought foods contributed significantly more daily empty calories (an estimated 436 calories) from sugar and solid fat to kids’ diets than either school foods or fast foods. The researchers explained that the highest calorie load derived from store-bought foods was due to the fact that almost all kids reportedly consumed them daily, whereas only 32% or 24% reported they consumed fast food or school food, respectively, on any given day.

When they looked at the biggest contributors of empty calories in kids diets based on location, the researchers found the top sources derived from stores were sugar-sweetened beverages, grain desserts, and high-fat milk. High-fat milk, grain desserts, and pizza were the top empty calorie contributors at schools, and sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy desserts, French fries, and pizza were the top sources derived from fast-food restaurants.

According to the researchers, “Efforts to reduce children’s consumption of empty calories must be made across multiple locations—not just at fast-food restaurants, but also at stores and schools.” They also single out high-fat flavored milk, grain desserts, and pizza as foods—top contributors of empty calorie intake by kids when they’re at school—that should be targeted as the new federal nutrition standards for school meals are implemented.

To help kids eat better, it’s important for parents to empower them to make more healthful choices—especially because they increasingly make food choices on their own when they’re away from home. Teaching kids how to read food labels and to identify—and choose—appropriate food portions to meet, but not exceed, their needs can also help. It’s also important to teach kids which foods and beverages can be considered everyday foods or dietary staples, and which ones should be considered as occasional or once-in-a-while foods. Eating as a family at home more often, modeling healthy eating habits and food choices, and offering a variety of options prepared in an appealing way—and getting kids involved in grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation or cooking often—can also help. Being exposed to nutritious foods and learning to prefer such foods, especially from an early age, can help them want to make better and more informed decisions down the road— whether they’re at school, at the deli, at a fast-food restaurant, or at a stadium to watch their favorite basketball team in action. Setting them up for success won’t guarantee they’ll always make the most nutritious choice, but it will point them in a more healthful direction.

How do you help your kids cut some empty calories from their diets?

Find healthy finger food recipes your tot will actually eat with our easy guide. Plus, learn how to make baby food right at home!

Image of happy lovely baby in shopping trolley via shutterstock.

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Parents Sound Off on Soda and Fast Food Meals

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

My recent Scoop on Food Post, No More Soda in Kids’ Meals, sparked considerable online conversation and debate. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I support any attempt by a fast food company—or any restaurant—to offer smaller portions, or more healthful fare. I am also in favor or limiting the marketing of nutrient-poor foods to children who are quite vulnerable to the impacts of advertising on their eating choices and habits. Although I intuitively thought that most parents would support the move by McDonald’s to not offer soda with Happy Meals, many said it crosses a line when it comes to freedom and personal choice. And even though the federal government had nothing to do with the McDonald’s decision, many commented that they don’t want the government dictating what they should or shouldn’t eat or feed their families.

Here’s just a sample of some reader comments when asked if they agree with the change McDonald’s is making on the Parents Magazine Facebook Page:

Heidi M. Fanning I think that this is great! My kids enjoy a happy meal as an occasional treat and they always pick the milk anyway. I like that soda will no longer be MARKETED to children, even though their parents are still free to buy them soda if they so choose.

Erica Lopez Just because it is not listed does not mean you cannot get it. Personally, I feel as though it is a good thing that McDonald’s wants to encourage parents not to serve their children soda. There are not enough children who appreciate and drink water.

Shawn-Joy Martin …I don’t agree with the change. How about a little personal responsibility? Don’t get your kid a Happy Meal 5 days a week and then if they want a soda with it, it won’t be such a big deal.

Diane Pumpido Pallini …It’s not McDonald’s or the government’s or anyone’s business to tell me what I can and can’t order for my kids. This nonsense is going too far.

Ashley Howerton I think it’s crap. My kid very rarely gets a Happy Meal, but when he does, if I as the parent choose to let him have a tiny (because let’s be honest, those cups are tiny) cup of Root Beer, that’s my choice. I’m the parent! I’m so sick of people thinking they have a right to bully businesses into limiting my options as a parent.

Amber Loyd Has this group taken into consideration that they are making it more difficult to practice moderation even when occasionally splurging diet wise…we are raising our son that nothing is off limits but everything in moderation, which is why I support the fact that happy meal fries are smaller and there are apples included now…but now you are telling me that when I do occasionally treat my son to a happy meal and he wants a soda with it I’m forced to buy him a larger size and then fight the battle of not having a “full” cup… I won’t be spending my money at McDonald’s anymore, period.

Breanna Stephens Sure, you can still add a soda for a dollar if you’re really insistent on giving your child that. It’s not taking away your choice just taking it out of a kids’ meal to encourage better choices for our children. We all know it’s not good for them or us. I’ve never allowed my kids to have soda because to me it’s an unnecessary indulgence…It’s each family’s personal decision but I think logically this makes sense.

Victoria Wieting I wish parents were smart enough to not give kids soda on their own but since they are not and I often see kids as young as preschool drinking it, then it’s about time the policy changed.

Amy Sage NO, because it is one of the few times I allow my son to have soda. It’s called “Happy” meal for a reason, it makes kids HAPPY!

Katie Haynie Guess what? Parents who want to get their kids soda will still get their kids soda, but it will be a small instead of the kid size, which means it will be bigger. This whole thing is stupid. What are they going to do next, arrest you for giving kids soda?

Lorisa Griffith It still is not going to solve a thing and all the hype has gotten out of control. If you don’t want your kid drinking soda then don’t buy them soda. Stop dictating how businesses operate because you are too scared to tell your kids no. What’s next? No cookies or cupcakes or Dairy Queen?

Heidi M. Fanning I find it odd and silly that people are complaining that it should be their choice and not McDonald’s choice whether or not their child has soda, because IT STILL IS the parent’s choice! McDonald’s will still sell you a soda to give to your children if that is what you want to do, it is just not part of the Happy Meal. Seriously, no one is taking your precious soda away.

Cathy Vo What gives McDonald’s the right to decide if my child should have a soda or not?  Getting my kids a Happy Meal was always an infrequent special treat that included the soda as a special treat, since I don’t buy soda to keep in the home! A stupid/unfair decision on their part!

I have no doubt this debate will continue, especially since similar nutrition and health initiatives by fast food and other companies will likely follow as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases remain prevalent in our society. For now, I agree with Margo Wootan, the Director of Nutriton Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says, “Taking soda off the Happy Meal section of menu boards at McDonald’s is an important step toward healthier kids meals and healthier children. It doesn’t much matter to me why they are doing it—just that it is good for kids and will make it a bit easier for parents to feed their children healthfully.”

What’s your opinion? Should companies have a say in how you should feed your children?

Image of cola in glass via shutterstock.

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Tags: , , , , | Categories: Diet, Health, Meals

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Will Fast Food Ever Be Health Food?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

In a previous Scoop on Food post, I asked if you thought fast food was OK for kids. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know that fast food is not health food. I also know that people don’t typically go to fast food restaurants when they want nutritious foods like healthfully prepared produce, whole grains, and lean protein foods—they go for burgers, fries, and fried chicken. Enjoyed by many, eating fast food contributes excess calories, fat, and sodium to the American diet. Of course one fast food meal won’t ruin an otherwise healthful diet and lifestyle. But eating it often can contribute to unhealthy weight gain and diet-related diseases. And that will inevitably take its toll on the health and quality of life of children, and possibly even set them up for a less-than-healthy futures.

Fast food is heavily advertised, widely available, and convenient—and it’s virtually impossible to ignore. Even my family and I succumb to it on occasion—while traveling or during a busy weekend. But while I’ll always recommend home-prepared foods over fast food to improve dietary intake and meet nutrient needs, there’s some proof that fast food chains are offering a few nutritious options or are otherwise slimming down their pickings.

Recently, McDonald’s vowed to offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals; promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals; and to create Happy Meal and other packaging that excites kids to choose and consume fruits, vegetables, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water. They also promised to include fun messages about nutrition or well-being in all its advertising aimed at children. This effort aimed at increasing access to produce and to help families and children to make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles is the outgrowth of a new partnership between McDonald’s and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation on a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment.

The McDonald’s plan won’t affect all of its restaurants across the country (within the next three years, the plan will target up to ten of the chain’s largest markets, and by 2020, a total of 20 of McDonald’s largest markets will be targeted). Still, it’s a step in the right direction. Other recent steps as outlined in a 2013 progress report include the fact that McDonald’s Happy Meals now include apple slices, the most popular Happy Meal choices provide 20% fewer calories than previously, and McDonald’s customers and employees have more access than ever before to calorie and nutrition information.

In other fast food news, Wendy’s recently joined Kids LiveWell, a program launched by the National Restaurant Association in collaboration with Healthy Dining Finder to help parents and children select nutritious foods when eating out. Two meal options that meet the Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria include a Kids’ Meal that consists of a Grilled Chicken Wrap or Hamburger served with sliced apples and either Juicy Juice 100% apple juice, TruMoo 1% low fat white milk, or Nestle bottled water.

Burger King, also part of the Kids LiveWell program, offers a Kids’ Meal Hamburger or Breakfast Oatmeal served with fresh apple slices and nonfat milk that meet the program’s nutrition criteria. They also launched crinkle cut French fries called Satisfies. A small order has fewer calories, less fat, and less sodium than Burger King’s traditional French fries (270 calories, 11 grams total fat, and 300 milligrams sodium versus 340 calories, 15 grams total fat, and 480 milligrams sodium). No matter how you slice ‘em, Satisfies are still fried potatoes. But having a tasty option with less calories, fat, and sodium (the value size order has even less) can potentially help all fast food eaters eat less when they eat out.

Although many chains are taking small steps to offer more nutritious options, they’re also creating more and more unhealthy concoctions. Seems to me that the noise made by Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and other heavily promoted nutrient-poor options are likely to drown out any positive steps companies take to improve the eating habits and health of America.

It’s up to parents to decide what role, if any, fast food should play in our lives. I say if you choose to have any fast food at all, teach your kids how to read menus, encourage them to order the smallest sizes available, and explain to them why fast food is, at best, once-in-a-while food. Because no matter what headway fast food restaurants make in the future, one thing is certain: eating more family meals at home with nutritious foods prepared in healthful ways will always be a great way to grow healthier children.

Photo of Kids’ Meal Grilled Chicken Wrap via The Wendy’s company.


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