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Video: The 4 worst restaurant meals for kids

  1. Closed captioning of: The 4 worst restaurant meals for kids

    >>> back at 8:35, healthier options for kids. take a close look at the kids' menu at the family's favorite restaurant and you'll be shocked by the calories packed into some of the meals. we have the author of "eat this not that" and good morning to you.

    >> good morning.

    >> as a parent i'm guilty because i see a lot of foods my kids are eating but 1 in 3 kids are obese in this country. we're dealing with a real epidemic and parents need to take responsibility.

    >> it is a real public health crisis. you have to not call it healthier food. call it foods that will make you faster or stronger or smarter or awesomer or whatever but don't call it, you know, health food . make it a quest not a drag. that makes all the difference.

    >> right.

    >> incorporate the child into it in this kind of ninja nutrition and it will pay off hugely.

    >> calories count for kids too as we'll find out. let's start off and look at meals from the popular chain restaurants from their kids' menus, this time looking at four meals here, starting off with on the border, a very well known establishment. we've got the kids' cheese quesadilla with mexican rice .

    >> this is 1200 calories on the border of disastrous.

    >> my goodness.

    >> we're talking about 31 grams of saturated fat , almost two days' worth for a child.

    >> that is crazy.

    >> so that ends up being the equivalent of these 17 shredded steak taquitos.

    >> disgusting.

    >> mexico is clearly mad at us for stealing selma hayek .

    >> you like to use that one every now and again.

    >> just dragging out the same old --

    >> this one, if you're at on the border get the kids' mexican plate with the crispy chicken taco. it's corn based not flour based and only 260 calories. you're saving a thousand calories. that's like one-third pound body fat just by eating that instead of this.

    >> much more protein in this, too. that's all carbs.

    >> that's 18 grams of protein right there. all right. let's move over here to another kids' meal. this one is from kfc, kids' meal with popcorn chicken , the potato wedges and the pepsi. so this is all deep fried .

    >> it's 730 calories' worth of beige madness. you know, the problem with the chicken popcorn is it's just very little bits of bird surrounded by breading and grease. a lot of empty calories that will leave the child hungry again very quickly, the calorie equivalent of these seven chocolate chip waffles. so have a couple waffles and a third of that dish.

    >> exactly.

    >> at kfc what you can have instead is this grilled chicken drum stick with the mashed potatoes . kids love mashed and they keep the skin on for the flavoring and you're only at 210. you just saved 500 calories.

    >> a major savings. okay. over here we've got the mcdonald 's. now mcdonald 's has done a lot to improve on their kids' meals options i believe but this is the mighty kids' meal and it packs a mighty punch with the mcdouble cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk .

    >> if kids are really mighty they should fight off this meal at mcdonald 's. at 790 calories it ends up being the equivalent of these 18 slices of american cheese . that's almost like an entire package worth.

    >> wow.

    >> so at mcdonald 's, which has a lot of nutritious options these days, go with this happy meal . it's got hamburger, apple dippers, apple juice box, it's 380 calories. no fries. and you're going to save almost 500 calories. again, it's a much more healthful way of eating and is still delicious.

    >> okay. next over here the cheesecake factory . they're not known for small portions as we all know. i still love them. okay. this is the kids' pasta with alfredo sauce . that is taking a bath in alfredo sauce right there.

    >> yeah. this is a good meal for, you know, kate plus eight. this is 1810 calories. it has 89 grams of saturated fat , like a week's worth of saturated fat right there. don't do that to a loved one. the calorie equivalent of 775 p pepperidge farm crackers. go with the pasta with the marinara sauce , it has antioxidents and is only 510 calories. you are saving 1400 calories just by not going with the cream based alfredo sauce .

    >> we have to watch the calorie intake. it all adds up. if this is just one meal you can imagine that is one meal that should be three over the full course of a day.

    >> a full day of eating in one meal without side dishes or appetizers or drinks in some cases.

    >> david, as always, you shock

updated 9/29/2011 8:36:59 AM ET 2011-09-29T12:36:59

One of the biggest flaws in America’s restaurants concerns the smallest people at the table. Somehow we feel as though kids should get a nutritional free pass, when in fact we should focus on instilling in them the best eating habits possible.

The average kid has Michael Phelps’ metabolism, so weight gain shouldn’t be a problem. But with the massive portions coming out of America’s chain restaurants, it is. More than one in three children are overweight or obese—that’s more than three times as many overweight children as we had 30 years ago. (The obesity rate is just over one in six children—that’s 12.5 million obese children in America.) And studies show that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, so it’s important to start improving eating habits early.

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It’s clear we need to address the problem, and by making smart swaps at our favorite restaurants, we can do just that. The four swaps here save your child an average 790 calories at each meal. If you can help your child cut just half that many calories every day, he or she stands to drop 40 over the course of a year.

On the Border
Kid’s Cheese Quesadilla with Mexican Rice
1,220 calories
75 g fat (31 g saturated)
1,930 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 17.5 José Olé Shredded Steak Taquitos—that’s almost a whole box!

Not only is this kid’s meal doused in greasy animal fats, but between the tortilla and the rice, it packs an astonishing 99 grams of carbohydrates—that’s more than twice as much as you’d find in the Kids’ Cheese Ravioli at Olive Garden. In short, you’re providing your kid with 75 percent of her calories for the day, but shorting her nutritionally—the quick-burning, cheap carbs will leave her hungry again in no time.

Kid’s Mexican Plate with Crispy Chicken Taco
260 calories
12 g fat (4 g saturated)
530 mg sodium

This powerhouse plate packs a full 18 grams of protein, which will keep your child energized and feeling full for longer. The key is skipping the starchy side of rice (if he’s hungry enough, opt for fiber-rich beans instead) and eschewing the heaps of greasy free chips on the table.

Don’t forget to set a good example for the niños yourself! From tacos to tamales, here are the universal guidelines you need to Master the Mexican Menu.

Kids Meal with Popcorn Chicken, Potato Wedges, and Pepsi
730 calories
32 g fat (6 g saturated)
1,535 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: More than seven Eggo Chocolate Chip Waffles!

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Everything but the Pepsi here has taken a dip in the deep fryer. That’s no good. That means fryer grease accounts for 40 percent of the calories, and carbohydrates from the potatoes and bread make up more than half. 

Kids Meal with Grilled Chicken Drumstick, Mashed Potatoes (no gravy), and Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters Tropical Fruit Juice Drink
210 calories
7 g fat (1.5 g saturated)
625 mg sodium

Though this drumstick is grilled, KFC leaves the skin on for a more flavorful crust. And unlike the popcorn chicken, which is largely spackled in thick, starchy batter, the bulk of the drumstick is actually meat, providing 15 grams of protein.

Want to find other TODAY Health fans? "Like" us on Facebook!

The “health halo” surrounding chicken is bright—so bright that it often blinds well-intentioned restaurant-goers to the fact that some fowl can be downright foul. Here we present The Most Deplorable Poultry Preparations in the country.

Mighty Kids Meal with McDouble, Fries, and 1 percent Chocolate Milk Jug
790 calories
33 g fat (12 g saturated, 1.5 g trans)
1,230 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 18 slices of Kraft Singles 2 percent American cheese—nearly an entire package!

McDonald’s tries to market this as an intermediate meal for older kids, but unless that kid happens to be a professional boxer, he’s probably not going to burn off all 840 of these calories. This “kids” meal is atrocious even by ADULT standards. No child has any business consuming this many calories in one sitting.

Happy Meal with Hamburger, Apple Dippers, and Apple Juice Box
380 calories
9 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
540 mg sodium

Make this your child’s go-to meal when you’re on the go. He’ll rack up protein from the burger and fiber from the apple, but with caramel dipping sauce AND a toy, it still feels like a treat. Shoot for nutritionally well-rounded meals like this to help set up life-long positive eating patterns.

Surprised to spot an endorsement of the Golden Arches here? Don’t be. Despite a nasty rep, plenty of fast-food chains have decent fare hiding behind the drive-thru window. Find out which other dashboard delights are s urprisingly healthy restaurant foods.

Cheesecake Factory
Kids Pasta with Alfredo Sauce
1,810 calories
89 g saturated fat
652 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 775 Parmesan-flavored Pepperidge Farm Goldfish—that’s two bags!

This meal has more than a full day’s energy for an 8-year-old kid. Not even an adult portion should have this many calories. But most disturbing here is the saturated fat tally. For a healthy child eating about 1,600 calories a day, 89 grams is 5.5 times the maximum daily limit.       

Kids Pasta with Marinara Sauce
510 calories
2 g saturated
651 mg sodium

Many times restaurants will stick you with a severe sodium load to compensate for fewer calories. Fortunately, in a commendable move, the Cheesecake Factory keeps the sodium stable while cutting the saturated fat significantly. Plus, the marinara sauce boasts high levels of lycopene, an antioxidant compound that may protect your kid against a whole range of maladies down the road.

Related Links

Eat This, Not That! For Kids!

6 Rules for Raising Healthy Children

15 Scariest Food Additives

The 50 Best Snack Foods in America

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