Between fried chicken strips, fries, and mozzarella sticks, finding a healthy meal on a children's menu can be a challenge. Over the past 5 years or so, some restaurants have been trying to figure that out by making changes to their menu, like remove soda from menus for kids, add fruit and offer vegetable options instead of the fries.

But according to a new study published in the scientific journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine, generally These changes have not had a major impact on the nutritional quality of children's food. in the restaurants.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the nutritional value of more than 4,000 drinks, main dishes, side dishes and desserts in 45 chains of restaurants, from fast food places to restaurants formal, mentioned in menus for children between 2012 and 2015.

According to the researchers, several restaurants They introduced initiatives to improve the health of children's meals during that period. The broadest of those commitments was an effort promoted by the National Restaurant Association in 2011, known as the Kids LiveWell program. The restaurants that chose to participate, had to offer at least one meal (main course, garnish and drink) and an accompaniment that complied with the nutritional guidelines regarding calories, fat, sodium and other nutrients. 15 of the 45 restaurants in this current study were LiveWell participants.

Their findings: if you are looking for healthy options in menus for kids, there are few to choose from.

Even among the networks that were part of the LiveWell program there was little improvement, according to the study's lead author, Alyssa Moran, MPH, RD, a doctoral candidate in the nutrition department at Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health.

"When we decided to do this study, we expected to see improvement ... so we were surprised that the calories, saturated fat, and sodium they remained quite stable over time, "he said.

And even though several chains removed soda from their menus for kids, sugary drinks still achieved an enormous 80% of the offers of children's drinks in these chains. "This implies that restaurants are swapping soda for other sugary drinks, such as flavored milk," said Moran.

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This research builds on previous studies by other teams, which have analyzed the nutritional content of combo meals, main dishes and side dishes They're offered on children's menus, Moran said, but those studies didn't include as large a sample of restaurant chains as this one did.

It is important to note that these results represent an average among the restaurant industry, and that might not reflect the big changes that some chains are making individually. (The chart below highlights some healthier options across 5 popular chains.) Furthermore, the team did not determine what meals the children, or their parents, actually order from the menus.

Leslie Shedd, vice president of communications at NRA, says, “We have just received this study and are currently reviewing it. Kids LiveWell was launched to promote healthy eating among children, and we appreciate any opportunity to encourage children to make healthy choices. ”

Moran's team found that an average children's meal with a drink, entree, side dish, and dessert was around 1,000 calories, and according to the Department of Agriculture, the kids between the ages of 4 to 8 years should consume only 1,400 to 1,600 calories in a whole day.

Use these tips to help you navigate nutrition mined fields on kids menus:

Be careful with the garnishes: "The secondary parts of a meal can add up and have a big impact," says Julie Downs, Ph.D., associate professor of food science. strategic at Carnegie Mellon University. "Someone who chooses a lower calorie entree might feel like they've made a very good choice, just to undo it with a calorie-filled side dish, a sugary drink, or dessert."

A McDonald's Happy Meal Box with a cheeseburger, fries (without ketchup), low-fat strawberry yogurt, and skim chocolate milk, for example, has 590 calories, 18 grams of fat, 925 milligrams sodium and 35 grams of sugar. Order the burger without the cheese and trade the yogurt for apple slices and chocolate milk for regular skim milk, and you'll save 110 calories, 2 grams of fat, 240 milligrams of sodium and 14 grams of sugar.

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Let your child choose a main course, Downs says, but you choose healthier side dishes to go with it, like fruit instead of potato chips or milk instead of juice.

Deviate from the children's menu: Kids menus are typically just for kids, but that doesn't mean the rest of the menu isn't for them, says Amy Keating, RD, a dietitian at Consumer Reports' food testing lab. "Regular menus have foods that kids might be used to eating at home, like grilled chicken or a cut of lean meat," he says. An entry might be a better choice than what's on the kid's menu, too. Or you might see green beans, sweet potatoes, or other vegetables being offered as a side dish on the regular menu. "If he restaurant serve healthier options, ask them to replace the fries with a vegetable in your child's main dish, "says Keating.

Divide a plate with your child: Order something from the regular menu that you both enjoy and share. Portions in restaurants are oversized, so this also has an added benefit in making your food healthier.

Be careful what you drink: The liquid calories from sugary drinks like soda and flavored milks can build up quickly. Order plain water or sparkling mineral water with a hint of orange juice instead of soda, or regular milk instead of chocolate milk.

Occasionally allow treats: Occasionally, let your child eat chips, dessert, or chocolate milk if he wants, but only one option per meal. And when it comes to dessert, order one and share it with everyone at the table. Even kid-sized desserts can easily have as many calories as a main course and twice as much saturated fat, Moran says.

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Stay away from what has cheese or is creamy: Anything with cheese or a creamy sauce is practically guaranteed to be loaded with fat and sodium, says Maxine Siegel, RD, a dietitian and director of the food testing laboratory at Consumer Reports. Order the sauces and dressings separately, and use just a little bit. Also, simply try to ask your server if the dishes your family orders can be prepared with less salt, and choose grilled options instead of fried or breaded dishes.

Look for the Kids LiveWell logo: Approximately 100 chains participate in the program nationwide. Even though there may not be as many options on a menu, Moran indicates that when you see dishes accompanied by the LiveWell symbol, you can be sure that it is a better option for your child.

According to the criteria of the program, a complete meal (main dish, garnish and drink) will have 600 calories or less; it will be limited in fats, sodium and sugars; and will include at least 2 servings of the following: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, or skim dairy products. Side dishes will be 200 calories or less and will include a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, or low-fat dairy products.

Original article in: The opinion.com

Author: Julia Calderone

I am a dreamer and in my dreams I believe that a better world is possible, that no one knows more than anyone, we all learn from everyone. I love gastronomy, numbers, teaching and sharing all the little I know, because by sharing I also learn. "Let's all go together from foundation to success"
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