The Scoop on Food

Why Soda Doesn't Belong On Kids' Menus

Some restaurant chains are removing soda from kids menus—here's why that's the right thing to do.

Girl drinking soda with straw AnneMS/Shutterstock
I was thrilled with the news last week that Applebee's and IHOP removed soda from their kids' menus, following in the footsteps of other restaurant chains like McDonald's and Wendy's.

But when I posted the good news to my Facebook page, I was surprised to see that not everyone shared in my enthusiasm. Some said parents (not restaurants) should be the ones to decide if their child should have soda. Others argued that leaving items like juice and chocolate milk on the kids menus was hypocritical, since those drinks contain sugar too—and that the food on these menus was usually unhealthy anyway, so what difference did it make?

I agree that parents should make the decisions that are best for their kids. I also agree that parents should be wary of too much juice and added sugar in general. And no, removing it from the kids' menu doesn't make greasy nuggets and fries any healthier. (I'd love to see more wholesome options on these menus, but that's another blog post entirely!)

But I'm still cheering, because I think removing it is a step in the right direction. Here's what I think is wrong with soda on kids' menus:

It makes our jobs harder as parents. There are times when I feel like I'm saying "no" all day to the tempting foods and drinks that bombard my children when we're out. Slushees at the gas station, mega-size popcorn at the movies, sugary cereal at their eye-level at the grocery store. I understand why they're asking: ads, in-store displays, commercials, and culture all tell them to want it. And despite what some parents say, many children will keep asking even if the answer is no. If you have a child who magically stops asking after one "no", good for you. Marketers know that most kids don't, which is why they even have a term for it: "Pester Power". Wouldn't it be nice to have one less thing to say no to?

It makes unhealthy choices easier. These menus are designed to be read (or at least looked at) by young children, who can pick from the limited choices with a degree of independence. Simply put, if soda is on the kids' menu, it's more likely to be ordered. If it's not, it won't. A study in the journal Obesity found that when soda was removed as a default from the children's menu at one restaurant chain, consumption of soda went down among kids at the restaurant, while milk consumption increased. It's not rocket science, it's common sense—and ultimately, it's good for our kids.

It fosters bad habits. Sugar-laden beverages have been targeted as a potential factor in obesity rates in our country. With one in three children currently overweight and obese, why do we want to start a habit of sugary drinks so young? At some restaurants, the soda on kids' menus comes with unlimited refills!

Besides, soda is still available to kids at these restaurants, even if it's not on the children's menu. Parents can still make that choice (full disclosure: my kids occasionally have a root beer when we're out to eat). But why not take a step toward making healthier choices just a little bit easier for kids and families to make?

What do YOU think about soda on kids' menus?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.