The Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report last week detailing that when it comes to kids' meals, fast-food chains such as McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Wendy's (NASDAQ:WEN), and Burger King (NYSE:BKW) offer up a healthy dose of unhealthy food.
After testing the restaurants' meals, the researchers found they aren't healthy because they contain too high amounts of fat, salt, and sugary drinks and recommended that more wholesome fare become the norm.
The CSPI report singled out Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) as being one of the worst offenders, with one meal for kids having twice the recommended intake of sodium.
Also discovered: Water is wet
I can't be the only one not surprised by the findings. While we might wish that McDonald's served bean sprouts with its Happy Meals, two things need to be remembered: That's not what kids want to eat, and that's not what you're looking to buy when you go to a fast-food restaurant. It's also something for parents to do in their home, not for public-policy advocates to give meddlesome politicians like New York City's nanny mayor, Michael Bloomberg, another avenue to attack individual choice.
Besides, fast-food restaurants have tried the healthy kick before, and it's typically been a failure. Does anyone remember Wendy's Super Bar salad bars or the Tomato Surprise? How about McDonald's McLean Deluxe (with seaweed extract!) or the McSpaghetti? Does the Dairy Queen Breeze frozen yogurt drink ring any bells?
More than likely, if you tried them, you're trying to forget them, and I apologize for dredging up bad memories -- but it's delusional to think you go to a greasy-burger joint for healthy fare. If you want that for lunch, go to Whole Foods. They're building greenhouses on their rooftops to pick fresh veggies.
I yam what I yam
At least some of the restaurants the CSPI surveyed didn't disguise the fact that their food is a guilty pleasure, for adults and kids alike. Of the top 50 chains, 18%, including Domino's Pizza, Dunkin Brands' Dunkin' Donuts, and Papa John's didn't have a so-called "kids' menu."
I'm sure the researchers realized that a kid-oriented menu doesn't automatically mean healthy food (I'd kinda expect the exact opposite, as a matter of fact). Rather, it simply means a smaller portion of an adult meal. Parents do have to monitor what their kids eat, but they can be allowed to splurge, too. And there are alternatives out there: Subway, sushi bars, and -- again -- organic food stores abound.
Do as I say, not as I do
Sounding a lot like Mayor Bloomberg, the CSPI recommends that restaurants remove sugary drinks from their kids' menus, offer more fruit and vegetables -- and make them the default menu option instead of fries -- and serve more whole grains.
Yet when first lady Michelle Obama foisted healthier school lunches on students after her Let's Move! organization got the president to sign a bill mandating them, follow-up surveys found that students were going hungry instead of getting healthy. As one lunch aide noted, the entree was being treated like a side dish as vegetables took up the whole plate.
Healthy kids' meals are indeed important, but not every meal needs to hold to the five food groups or the latest food pyramid put out by the USDA. Sometimes you just want to wipe the grease off your chin with your sleeve.
Weigh in below on whether you think restaurants should be told how "happy" their customers have to be when ordering a Happy Meal.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings, Burger King Worldwide, McDonald's, and Whole Foods Market and owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings, McDonald's, Papa John's International, and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.