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.
The choice of main entree by itself didn't influence the nutrient content of typical meals studied, the group found, but side choices did. Raisins appeared to be the most nutritious fruit side, due to their high iron content.
"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."
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," Mendoza said. "Further, 42 percent of all the meal combinations in the study met four or more of the criteria."
Hoerr and her colleagues agree it is the responsibility of the restaurant industry to develop and market more nutritious kids' meal options and for parents to choose healthy kids' meals for their children.
"Through public policy efforts and purchasing choices, parents, physicians, consumer groups, policymakers and public health professionals can deliver a strong, united message to fast-food companies that kids' meals are most desirable when they are nutritious as well as tasty," Hoerr said.
|Contact: Sharon Hoerr|
Michigan State University