About the Issue

It’s time to serve our kids better.

Remember when eating out was a treat? Many of us went out for special occasions, such as birthdays, where there was something to be celebrated. These days, it’s a different reality. When life gets too busy, we often turn to restaurants to feed our families. While eating out on a weekly—even daily—basis is sometimes a necessity, it presents a new responsibility for restaurants to serve kids better.™

But that’s a responsibility they’re hardly living up to.

It’s no secret that restaurant kids’ meals aren’t exactly healthy. They are often high in calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium—and low in nutrition. As families like ours and yours turn to restaurants to feed them more often, restaurants should do their part by including menu items that are healthy, especially for our kids. But don’t just take our word for it, the facts support a need for change.

We’re eating out more than ever:

  • Americans now spend more of their food budget on foods prepared away from home than on foods at home.
  • Children consume roughly 25% of their calories from eating out, and about 42% of children aged two to nine eat fast food on a given day.

Restaurants have a responsibility to help kids eat healthy, but they’re falling short dramatically:

  • Approximately 96% of entrees in U.S. chain restaurants fail to meet basic USDA nutrition standards, a 2013 report found.
  • A study of the top 50 U.S. chain restaurants found that 86% of children’s meal combinations are too high in calories, 55% are too high in saturated fat, and 66% are too high in sodium.
  • In 2013, an independent study documented that only 11 of 4,695 possible children’s meal combinations in fast food chain restaurants met all of the established nutritional criteria for pre-schoolers, and only 19 meals met all nutritional criteria for older children.
  • Many restaurant kids’ meals include a sugary drink and a sweet dessert. Our kids are sweet enough without those added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that children under the age of two have no added sugars in their diets (food or beverages) and that children and teens have less than six teaspoons of added sugar a day and no more than eight ounces of sugary drinks per week.
  • Studies link eating out more with obesity, higher amounts of body fat, and higher body mass index. They also show that eating fast food meals often is associated with consuming more calories and saturated fat.

In fact, children eat almost twice as many calories when they eat a meal at a restaurant than they do when they eat a meal at home. So, what can we—as parents and community members—do to protect our children and help restaurants change their unhealthy ways? We can start by talking to our local restaurant owners about providing healthy options for our children. We should also ask our decision makers to pass policies that ensure restaurants serve kids better.