It’s great to see so much attention being paid to what our children are eating.
Is it making a difference?
We reported in our post Eating for the Health Of It At Restaurants With Kids about the ongoing improvement of kid’s restaurant menus toward healthier options.
There are many restaurant chains that have made changes to the menus offered to our children and some who specifically worked with expert groups who helped guide their efforts toward improved nutrition.
But were their efforts enough?
Are kids and parents selecting the healthy choices?
Is it making a difference in our children’s health?
Research Shows Evidence
A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports on the state of restaurant chains’ kids menus.
They found there are still gaps in nutrition in the kids’ menus offered in restaurants that voluntarily participated in initiatives such as the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell with those who did not participate.
- Beverage calories have continued to increase since 2012
- Kids LiveWell restaurants reduced calories in the entrees but increased the calories in side dishes
- Sugar sweetened beverages comprised 80% of beverage choices
- Soda intake decreased as flavored milk increased
Researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health identified no reductions in calories, saturated fat or sodium during the first three years of the program at restaurants participating in the Kids LiveWell program.
Despite hopes, non-participating restaurants were not influenced to improve their own menus to keep pace with the participating ones for the health of our children.
Researchers concluded that continued progress is needed in the nutritional health of kid’s menus and the programs should be updated to engage restaurants toward improvement.
Dining Out Concerns
Why is there such a focus on dining out with our children?
What about the food they eat in school or at home?
Availability of healthy food choices while families dine away from home is a concern because of the increase in frequency that families now dine out.
One study reported that one in three kids and teens ate fast food every day!
When the menu items are high in fat, calories, added sugar and salt and saturated fat, children’s health is at risk.
What Experts Want
Nutrition experts appreciate the start that programs such as Kids LiveWell bring to the plate but feel that there won’t be an impact on our children’s health until all menu items are healthy.
They also want sugar sweetened beverages to be removed completely from kids menus. They feel drinks like soda, lemonade and others should be unavailable in favor of plain milk or water.
When one considers that the age of those ordering from the kids menu is less than 6 years old, it is not necessary to offer these unhealthy items. They propose that older kids and teens are ordering from the adult menu already with a wider selection of healthy options.
A concern for some is that voluntary programs which are self-administered won’t be able to achieve compliance and may prevent stronger restrictions from being implemented.
What Do Parents Want?
Experts’ viewpoints about what kids should eat may or may not be what parents really want.
A case in point is the National School Lunch Program changes mandated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and supported by former First Lady Michelle Obama.
The experts all agreed that improving school lunches with healthier foods and limited portions urging kids to make better choices was an important goal and one whose main target was impeding childhood obesity.
However, parents objected on a variety of fronts. Their kids complained, food was thrown away, portions and choices shrank, and kids weren’t energized for after school activities. Many parents wanted the schools to ignore the regulations and go back to the old ways where pizza and French fries would again be standard fare.
Parents may also want to eat out in their favorite restaurants with familiar foods for the kids whether they are healthy or not. Preventing kids from refusing the food they purchase or misbehaving during the meal when a bottomless soda isn’t available to drink may not interest harried parents who don’t have time to cook at home from scratch.
Some parents wouldn’t be sad to see the death of kids’ menus and just order from the adult menu for their kids (smaller portions and prices too). That way the temptation for fried chicken fingers would be replaced by something potentially healthier and be the same as what the parents were eating. One research study from the University of Edinburgh found that kids who ate what their parents did in restaurants were healthier.
It’s Our Kids’ Health That Matters
In the end, we all want our kids to be healthy.
We want to be healthy ourselves as parents.
Together we can decide which foods are best to help us be healthy while we enjoy our meals out as a family.
If your family eats out frequently, it will be more important to make healthy food choices than it is for a family who eats out only occasionally and wants to splurge.
We don’t always want to cook at home but as eating out steadily increases in frequency, what we eat should be a consideration.
Balance in our life and our meals is key to a healthy life.