Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said 97 percent of the nearly 3,500 meal possibilities did not meet CSPI's nutrition criteria for children ages 4-8. Fried chicken fingers, burgers, French fries and sugary drinks continue to dominate the kids' meal landscape, Wootan said.
"One out of every three American children is overweight or obese, but it's as if the chain restaurant industry didn't get the memo," Wootan said. "Most chains seem stuck in a time warp, serving up the same old meals based on chicken nuggets, burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries and soda."
However, all eight of Subway restaurants' Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations met CSPI's nutrition criteria. In addition, Subway was the only restaurant chain not offering sugary drinks with kid meals. Instead, children are offered low-fat milk or bottled water along with apple slice with all of its kid-sized subs.
To meet the CSPI's nutrition criteria, kids' meals must not exceed 430 calories, more than 35 percent of calories from fat, or more than 10 percent of calories from saturated plus trans fat. The meals that meet CSPI's criteria cannot have more than 35 percent added sugars by weight or more than 770 milligrams of sodium.
The meals should have at least a half a serving of fruit or vegetable, including an item that is 51 percent or more whole grain, or including specified levels of vitamins or fiber.
Some of the least healthy kids' meals included:
-- Applebee's Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with Fries and 2 Percent Chocolate Milk has 1,210 calories with 62 grams of total fat, or 46 percent of calories; 21 grams of saturated fat or 16 percent or calories; and 2,340 milligrams of sodium.
-- Chili's Pepperoni Pizza with Homestyle Fries and Soda has 1,010 calories, 45 grams of total fat, or 40 percent of calories; 18 grams of saturated fat, or 16 percent of calories, and about as much saturated fat as an adult should consume in an entire day; and 2,020 milligrams of sodium.
-- Denny's Jr. Cheeseburger and French Fries has 980 calories, 55 grams of total fat or 50 percent of calories; 20 grams of saturated fat or 18 percent of calories; and 1,110 mg of sodium.