UK’s kid’s meals first came under attack in 2008, when the issue of childhood obesity became a hot-button topic in medical communities and political circles alike. At the time, most kid’s meals were served with fries and an oversized soda, and there were few, if any, healthier alternatives.

In response to the media attention, many restaurants began shifting their kid’s meal options to include fresh fruit and other alternatives to French fries, and drinks were down-sized. However, a 2010 study showed that the changes being made were still minimal at best, and greater changes had to be made to impact national children’s health overall.

What recommendations have been made regarding kid’s meals?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, more commonly known as CSPI, created a set of specific food recommendations for restaurants to follow. They made it clear that meals in excess of 700 calories, and with upwards of 1,000 milligrams of sodium, were not going to cut it.

Instead, they recommended that calories be limited to 430 per meal, with no more than 35% of the total calories derived from fat. They also limited saturated and trans fats to no more than 10% of the total meal calories, sodium to 770 mg, and sugar to no more than 35%, including beverage sugars.

Other, more specific, recommendations included a whole grain item that was 51% whole grain or higher, and at least a half cup serving of fruits or vegetables in each meal, to provide a significant source of fiber and vitamins. Beverage offers should be limited to water, juice, and low-fat milk.

A 2012 study found that, while only about 3% of kid’s meals met these recommendations, about a third of restaurants had at least one meal option that was recommendation-compliant. Most meal options were compliant in terms of caloric intake, and total sodium, but failed to meet limits on the amount of saturated fat in the meal.

Which kid’s meals are the most calorie-laden?

Change typically happens slowly, and over time, so many restaurants only have one or two menu options that are compliant. However, other restaurants appear to be making no effort to become CSPI recommendation-compliant.

Buffalo Wild Wings has 16 kid’s menu meal combinations, and none of them are compliant. Buffalo Wild Wings also fails to provide nutritional information for many of the offerings on its menu.

Carl’s Jr. has 12 kid’s meal combinations, none of which are compliant. This failure is at least in part to the fact that every meal is served with fries.

Other restaurants have similar issues. Chipotle has more than 300 meal combinations, all of which have more than 600 calories. Perhaps most disappointing is McDonalds, which despite its popularity, has no kid’s meal options that are fully compliant.

The worst fast-food offering, in the fast food market, comes from Dairy Queen. Their Chicken Strip dinner, when served with French fries, dipping sauce, an Arctic Rush Slushy, and a Dilly Bar, has 1030 calories. It has 45 grams of fat, with 15 of those from saturated fat, and 1,730 mg of sodium.

The worst kid’s meal offered at a sit -down restaurant is at Applebee’s. Their Grilled Cheese and French fries platter, when served with 2% chocolate milk, has 1,210 calories. It contains 62 grams of fat, 21 from saturated fat, and 2,340 mg of sodium.

What are the best kid’s meals available?

The Kids Live Well program is just over a year old, and has definitely encouraged some restaurants to revamp their programs and offer better child menu options. The program is a joint effort of the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining on Kids.

Perhaps the most notable menu is Subway’s. Subway offers 8 kids meals, all of which are 100% compliant with every aspect of CSPI’s recommendations. The most healthful is the Veggie Delight sub, on whole wheat, no cheese added, with apple slices and a box of 100% juice. It has 285 calories, 295 mg sodium, and no saturated fat.

Officials suggest, however, that the number of restaurants that offer compliant meals will continue to rise, as the Kids Live Well program expands.

There are several choices that you can help your children make that will ensure they get the best possible nutrition when eating on the go.

First, avoid fried foods whenever possible. This means eliminating fried chicken and replacing it with grilled instead. Also, avoid chips, French fries, and other deep-fried sides. Instead, opt for whole fruit options whenever possible, like whole bananas, or apple slices.

Also, eliminate added sugars wherever possible. This means eliminating sugary desserts, or dips like caramel sauce that might be put on fruit. Children should also be taught to opt for water, milk, or 100% juice, instead of sodas or sugary drinks.

Be aware of the nutritional information provided by the restaurant. Never order any menu option that does not have nutritional information made available. Also, look for the Kids Live Well label on the menu, to ensure that the item selection meets the Kids Live Well program recommendations.