More restaurant chains offer fruits and vegetables with children’s meals than they did in 2008, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls it a “disappointing improvement” in the overall nutrition of the meals.
The Washington D.C.-based non-profit group released a study March 28, reporting that 97% of the 3,498 combinations available on kids’ menus from 34 restaurant chains did not meet nutritional criteria based on recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We need restaurants to do a lot more to give parents a fighting chance to find healthy things for their kids to eat,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for CSPI, during a March 28 press conference.
Cost, which has often been cited by the restaurant industry as a reason more fruits and vegetables are not included on menus, was dismissed by Wootan as a myth.
“An apple is cheaper than a bag of chips and a grilled chicken leg isn’t more expensive than a fried one,” Wootan said. “Almost any meal is improved if you pair an entrée with a fruit or vegetable.”
Bryan Silbermann, president of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said restaurant operators are beginning to understand that they need to consider the “plate cost” of the food they serve instead of looking at the prices of individual commodities.
“Value-added products that are ready to serve have actually helped reduce costs,” Silbermann said.
He said fresh-cut produce is safe, and reduces labor costs and waste. Silbermann also said fresh fruits and vegetables give restaurants something they can effectively market.
“Produce adds flavor, color and texture,” Silbermann said. “You can sell that to consumers.”
The National Restaurant Association is already encouraging members to offer more fresh produce by participating with PMA’s Foodservice 2020 initiative. The initiative’s goal is to see produce offerings on menus double by the year 2020. The International Foodservice Distributors Association is also involved in the initiative.
Joy Dubost, nutrition director for the NRA, said the voluntary program has attracted more than 120 restaurant brands as participants since its launch 18 months ago.