With only 3 percent of all children's meals served at American fast-food restaurants meeting the Federal Dietary Guidelines for children, most other restaurants fail in this regard; reveals the results of a new study.
The researchers from Michigan State University and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston assessed the nutritional status of kids' meals in the Houston market.
The small percentage of meals that did meet dietary guidelines included fruit as a side dish and milk, and nearly all were deli-sandwich meals.
They also had about one-third the fat, one-sixth the added sugars, twice the iron and three times the amount of vitamin A and calcium.
"Because 25 percent of children aged 4 to 8 years consume fast food on a typical day, the diet quality of kids' meals offered by fast-food companies contributes significantly to their overall health and well-being," said Michigan State University's Sharon Hoerr, a food science and human nutrition researcher with the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.
"Two trends motivate the need for an evaluation of the nutrient quality of fast-food kids' meals: the increased prevalence of childhood obesity and the amount of food consumed away from home," he added.
The team assessed the quality of kids' meals with the help of seven nutrient criteria from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and dietary guidelines for sodium, fiber, added sugar and trans fat.
Of the meals that did not meet the NSLP guidelines, more than 65 percent exceeded guidelines for total fat, 75 percent were deficient in calcium, 82 percent were deficient in iron and 85 percent were deficient in vitamin A.
"This suggests that parents should carefully read the nutrition information to determine what is included in these meals," Hoerr said.
"Sparing use of dipping sauces and other condiments will also help to keep sodium, added sugars and fat low," she added.
Although only a small percentage of the meals met NSLP guidelines, researchers believe fast-food kids' meals can be designed to taste good and meet a basic level of nutrient quality.
"Fast-food companies are not required to produce meals that meet the nutrient protocol of the NSLP, so finding even a small percentage of meals that met the protocol is encouraging," said pediatrician Jason Mendoza from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"Further, 42 percent of all the meal combinations in the study met four or more of the criteria," he added.