An essential component of any healthy eating plan is cutting back on eating meals out. By increasing the number of home-cooked meals eaten per week, you can feel confident about consuming only fresh and healthy ingredients. As we all know, however, cooking dinner every night can be challenging and time constraints don’t always allow for it. According to a 2011 “Dining Out” survey conducted by LivingSocial, the average American eats 4.8 meals per week at a restaurant. While eating out more often saves time and energy, it raises a new issue. Is dining out the healthiest option for our families, especially young children?
Across a variety of chain restaurants, children’s menus tend to include childhood classics like hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and chicken fingers. While these are sure to please picky eaters, they are not the healthiest options. Kids’ meals rarely come with vegetables, and often include sugary desserts and soda or juice. The Soil Association, a UK charity dedicated to promoting sustainability, organic farming, and human health, set out to determine what healthy options are available at chain restaurants.
The association analyzed menus and employed a number of parents to report on service at 21 of Britain’s most popular restaurants. The study found that, across the board, even more expensive chains fail to serve healthy choices. Few meals incorporated fresh ingredients, which much of the meal being prepared off-site. For example, some restaurants served potatoes that were pre-mashed in Holland and fish fingers that were pre-cooked in Poland. Three of the chains offered children free or discounted refills of sugary drinks, which are known to contribute to weight gain, cavities, and a variety of other negative health effects.
This issue is in no way unique to Britain. In fact, three out of the five unhealthiest restaurants, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut, are American chains. Restaurants were scored, according to the nutritional value of their menus, on a scale of 1 to 80. With 80 being the best, Burger King earned a measly 11. This study has sparked a widespread conversation about protecting children’s health and increasing access to healthy foods. “Adults expect to be offered real food and real choices in restaurants and we think children deserve the same,” Rob Percival of the Soil Association told The Telegraph. He calls on these and other chains to “raise the bar and give our kids the food they deserve.”
The accompanying slideshow is provided by special contributor Molly Aronica.