Most kids, if given the choice, would live out their young lives subsisting on nothing but chicken fingers. If those chicken fingers happened to come from Chili’s, they might be Kauai restaurants pretty short lives. An active 8-year-old boy should eat about 1,600 calories a day. This single meal plows through 70 percent of that allotment. America, we have a problem.
Knowing firsthand the struggle with understanding what is good or bad since I was always the fat kid and then topping out over 500 pounds. I have analyzed kids’ menu offerings at all the major chains, taken a hard look at packaged foods, and uncovered the truth about what this country is really feeding its children.
The bad news is that many of America’s food industry titans are pumping kids’ meals full of added sugars, dangerous fats, and empty calories. But, there’s great news, too: Kid’s meals tell us a lot about how adults will fare, as well. Read on for all the dietary disasters, and an equal number of drive-through saviors, for everybody in the family.
20. Worst Breakfast Cereal: Cap’n Crunch (1 cup) 147 calories; 2 grams (g) fat (1 g saturated); 16 g sugar; 1 g fiber. Sweetened cereals are among the most dominant sources of empty calories in a child’s diet. Aside from the added vitamins, which are mandated by the government, this cereal is an amalgam of largely worthless food particles and chemicals. Buyers beware: Most cereals marketed to kids suffer similar problems. Eat this instead: Cascadian Farm Clifford Crunch. (1 cup) 100 calories; 1 g fat (0 g saturated); 6 g sugar; 5 g fiber.
19. Worst Breakfast Pastry: Burger King Cini-minis with vanilla icing 500 calories; 21 g fat (6 g saturated, 5 g trans); 72 g carbohydrates. There is no worse way to start your day than with a combination of refined flour, sugar, and trans fats. What’s more, studies show that overweight people who trade fast-digesting carbohydrates for more protein at breakfast have an easier time slimming down. Eat this instead: Burger King Egg & Cheese Croissan’wich 300 calories; 17 g fat (6 g saturated, 2 g trans); 26 g carbohydrates.
18. Worst Side Dish: Bob Evans Smiley Face Potatoes. 524 calories; 31 g fat (6 g saturated); 57 g carbohydrates; 646 mg sodium. Not even an extended bath in hot oil would wipe the grins from faces of these creepy-looking potatoes. When you’re eating out, side dishes make or break a meal, and with more fat and calories than Bob’s sirloin steak, this side falls woefully into the latter category. The lesson for kids: Just because they’re smiling doesn’t mean they’re nice. Eat this instead: Bob Evans Home Fries. 186 calories; 7 g fat (1 g saturated); 27 g carbohydrates; 547 mg sodium.
17. Worst Home Style Meal: Boston Market kids’ Meatloaf with Sweet Potato Casserole and Cornbread 580 calories; 29 g fat (12 g saturated); 780 milligrams (mg) sodium. What begins as beef ends up with 42 ingredients, including partially hydrogenated oil. What’s more, the sweet-potato casserole is topped off with marshmallow, brown sugar, and molasses. Eat this instead: Boston Market Kids’ Roasted Turkey with Green Beans and Cornbread 210 calories; 6 g fat (2 g saturated); 568 mg sodium.
16. Worst Pasta Meal: Romano’s Macaroni Grill Kid’s Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese 600 calories; 31 g fat (20 g saturated); 1,720 mg sodium. This dish used to be more than double the size and caloric impact. The chain finally cut down the massive portion size. Thanks, Macaroni Grill. (P.S. It’s still a disaster.) Eat this instead: Kid’s Grilled Chicken & Broccoli 390 calories; 5 g fat (2 g saturated), 560 mg sodium.
15. Worst Sandwich: Au Bon Pain Kids Grilled Cheese 670 calories; 41 g fat (25 g saturated); 1,060 mg sodium. Au Bon Pain turns a simple sandwich into a complicated mess, with just about as much saturated fat as 24 strips of bacon. Eat this instead: Au Bon Pain Kids Macaroni and Cheese 220 calories; 14 g fat (9 g saturated); 650 mg sodium.
14. Worst Prepared Lunch: Oscar Mayer Lunchables Maxed Out Turkey & Cheddar Cracker Combo 680 calories; 22 g fat (9 g saturated); 1,440 mg sodium. The maxed Out line is the worst of the lackluster Lunchables, with an ingredient list that looks like the index of a chemistry textbook. Oscar Mayer even manages to cram in 61 grams of sugar more than you’ll find in four Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! Eat this instead: Hillshire Farm Deli Wraps Smokehouse Ham & Swiss Wrap Kit with dressing (1 serving) 260 calories; 11g fat (4 g saturated); 960 mg sodium.
13. Worst Fast Food Meal: Burger King Double Cheeseburger and Small French Fries 740 calories; 42 g fat (17 g saturated, 4.5 g trans); 1,410 mg sodium. Burger King’s dubious double burger earns the distinction of being one of the fattiest meals for an on-the-go kid, with more than a day’s worth of saturated fat for the average 8-year-old. To make matters worse, it’s also loaded with trans fat and sodium. Eat this instead: Burger King Chicken Tenders Kid’s Meal (4 piece) with Burger King Fresh Apple Fries 215 calories; 11 g fat (3 g saturated, 1.5 g trans); 440 mg sodium.
12. Worst Pizza: Cosi Kids Pepperoni Pizza 806 calories; 40 g fat; 94 g carbohydrates; 1,423 mg sodium. Before your child eats this doughy, oversized pizza, consider strapping two boxes of Mozzarella Bagel Bites to her stomach to see if she likes the added bulk, because that’s how many calories she stands to absorb. You’re better off ordering in even two slices of a 12-inch pepperoni pizza from Papa John’s is only 440 calories. Eat this instead: Cosi Gooey Grilled Cheese Sandwich 269 calories; 15 g fat; 22 g carbohydrates; 314 mg sodium.
11. Worst Breakfast: Denny’s Big Dipper French Toastix with Whipped Margarine and Maple Flavored Syrup 810 calories; 76 g fat (14 g saturated); 107 g carbohydrates. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and kids, after all, need energy to grow and play. But that doesn’t mean you should let your children eat a breakfast twice in one setting. At this size, four French Toastix is three too many. Eat this instead: Denny’s Smiley Alien Hotcakes with Sugar-Free Maple Flavored Syrup and Anti-Gravity Grapes 313 calories; 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated); 71 g carbohydrates.