First of all, let me say this: I am not a nutritionist. I don’t have a medical degree, and I don’t claim to be an expert on many things.
What I am is a mom, a forward thinker, and an intelligent woman. I don’t give out my credit card information on the phone to strangers, and I don’t believe posting a Facebook status will help save anyone’s life. I ask questions and want explanations and won’t settle until I find the answers.
I call myself an informed consumer and I love to learn.
Since founding a site dedicated to kid’s meals, I clicked purposefully when a local news station posted an article on June 7, 2012 about the 5 Worst ‘Healthy’ Kids’ Meals. This 283-word article cites a PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) study that was conducted on five Kid’s Meals at five high-profile restaurant chains in the United States, four of which meet the Kids LiveWell nutritional standards. Although the article had three embedded links to the study, it merely summarized the findings. To me, the article lacked depth and didn’t provide any concrete information I could learn from or share.
As a result, I felt compelled to learn more, so I clicked through to read the study about these five unhealthy kid’s meals.
This table grabbed my attention on the first page (see photo 1):
I immediately questioned their findings and dug deeper into the article. Page 2 was background information about the study and highlighted the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program, which launched last summer. It also identified the key factors dieticians analyzed in the kid’s meals (fat, sodium, cholesterol, red/processed meats). Finally, at the bottom of page 3, the menu items in question were revealed. Five kid’s meals were chosen from Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Burger King, Sonic and Denny’s.
Since the Chick-fil-A Kid’s Meal was deemed the worst of the worst, I was curious about what could possibly be in a Grilled Chicken Nugget that would equate its cholesterol value to that of a Big Mac. A Big Mac, really?
Upon further investigation, I found that the PCRM analyzed the CFA Kid’s Grilled Chicken Nugget Meal with an order of waffle fries not the fruit/applesauce that is part of the Kids LiveWell initiative. Say what? In addition, I noticed that the menu items analyzed at Sonic and Burger King did not include fries.
Chick-fil-A never claimed that its waffle fries were healthy. However, in efforts to offer healthier meal options, in January 2012, they announced the addition of Grilled Chicken Nuggets to their menu. This option, combined with a small fruit cup or applesauce and white low fat milk, met the Kids LiveWell nutritional standards and was added to their initiative as a healthful choice in May 2012.
According to the nutritional calculator on Chick-fil-A’s website, the Grilled Chicken Nuggets Kid’s Meal with a small fruit cup, white milk has 220 calories, 3g fat, and 50 mg cholesterol (see photo 2):
Since the PCRM compared this kid’s meal to a Big Mac, here are some actual comparisons. The Big Mac has 550 calories, 29g fat, and 75 mg of cholesterol.
This is an unfair comparison. It’s not even a comparison worth mentioning; it’s ridiculous. It’s a scare tactic, a let’s beat up on fast food, a manipulative way to crowd source.
What is so disturbing is that PCRM failed to share the real details of their findings with consumers and was relying on “nutritional shock” value to create news value and chatter across the web about kid’s meals in order to drive more traffic to their website. After this study was published, I read 10 more news stories and reports (at least) dictating the same misinformation to consumers.
I fault the lack of research on all of these sources; they didn’t dive into the details of the study to share what really was being analyzed.
I know this because I dug deeper, asked questions, and have a vested interest in this topic. The average consumer reading status updates, tweets, and headlines across the web may not do the same thing. They see “Chick-fil-A has the worst healthy kids’ meal,” and that’s it. Very few may take the time to click, click again, and click again to find the answers.
I firmly believe that restaurants should offer consumers healthy options, but it is not the responsibility of the restaurant to force a parent to make those choices, either for themselves or their children. As a mom, I feel it is my responsibility to offer healthy choices to my children and educate them about eating well. Kids will eat when they are hungry, and if you offer fries, that’s what they’ll come to expect, what they’ll favor, and eventually when they are older, be the choice they make.
Instead of the PCRM and other news sources filling up my Facebook newsfeed with misinformation, it would be refreshing to see relative, factual content that will enable me to make better choices for my family. It would be helpful to see genuine comparisons not irrelevant observations. The right information has the potential to change the way consumers make decisions for a lifetime. Scaring them to believe something until the shock subsides, will not.
Knowledge is power – Sir Frances Bacon
Thank you for reading. I welcome your feedback.
Jennifer Bilbro is the Founder of OutToEatWithKids.com and a social media consultant. Out to Eat With Kids is an online resource and mobile application designed to help families search for economical & healthy children’s meals. Visit OutToEatWithKids.com for more information or contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.