Explainer: The 20 worst kids' foods in America

  • Image: Ruby Tuesday Kids Turkey Minis & Fries
    rubytuesday.com

    Here's a pop quiz:

    If you have young children at home, which of the following is likely to eat up the larger percentage of your household income?

    A. Books and other educational materials
    B. DVDs, CDs, music downloads, and trips to the movies
    C. Video games
    D. Fast food

    You're probably not surprised to discover that the right answer is D. But you might be surprised to discover that, if you're a parent, you will most likely spend more on fast food this year than on A, B, and C combined.

    Restaurants are no more kind to our children's health and well-being than they are to our own: The typical burger, soda, and fries that you and I ate as kids contains an average of 214 more calories today than that same meal did in the 1970s — enough to add at least 3 pounds of weight a year to your child's body, even if he or she ate that fast-food meal just once a week.

    Indeed, some of the nutritional stats in the foods restaurants are selling as "kids' meals" are terrifying. A grilled cheese with as much fat as 25 strips of bacon? A child-size dessert with more than half a day's worth of calories? And the supermarket aisles offer little salvation.

    As a result, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled since 1980 — today, 16 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight or obese. An additional 15 percent of kids are "at risk of becoming overweight or obese."

    Seventy percent of overweight adolescents end up overweight or obese in adulthood. And since obesity increases your odds of heart attack, stroke, and early death, consider the impact of an entire generation of overweight children on our country's health care system — and families. It's a chilling thought, especially if one of those children is your own. That's why we've created this list, to help your family make smarter choices today for a healthier tomorrow.

    Tip: Before eating out, check out our list of America's best and worst restaurants for kids!

    — Children'sHealth

  • Worst sweetened cereal

    Image: Cap'n Crunch
    pepsico.com

    20. Cap'n Crunch (1 cup)
    146 calories
    2 g fat (1 g saturated)
    16 g sugars
    1 g fiber

    The Cap'n's cereal is the archetypal hypersweetened breakfast. It didn't make our list by its abundance of fat or calories; it made the list by being among the dominant sources of empty calories in a child's diet. Aside from the small amount of added vitamins, which are mandated by the government, this cereal is a food scientist's concoction of worthless foodlike particles and chemicals. Corn flour makes up the bulk of each crunch, and sugar, brown sugar, and coconut oil hold it together. This cereal is also coated with loads of the food colorings yellow 6 and 5, which have been linked to irritability and poor behavior in children.

    Eat this instead!
    Cascadian Farm Clifford Crunch (1 cup)
    100 calories
    1 g fat (0 g saturated)
    25 g carbohydrates
    6 g sugars

    Tip: Avoid the worst breakfast foods in America!

  • Worst packaged snack

    19. Austin Cheese Crackers with Cheddar Jack Cheese (1 package)
    210 calories
    10 g fat (2 g saturated, 4 g trans)
    370 mg sodium

    The calorie count is the least of your concerns with these ubiquitous orange cracker snacks. They made the list because each package contains 2 days' worth of trans fats. Most of the food industry has figured out how to make foods free of these nasty lipids (which have been proven to raise bad cholesterol); we suggest Austin do the same.

    Eat this instead!
    Laughing Cow Mini Babybel
    70 calories
    6 g fat (4 g saturated)
    170 mg sodium

    Tip: Beware of America's worst "healthy" snacks.

  • Worst beverage

    Image: SunnyD Smooth Style
    sunnyd.com

    18. SunnyD Smooth Style (16 ounces)
    260 calories
    60 g sugars

    Remember those commercials where the kid with SunnyD in the fridge always had the coolest mom? What they didn't tell you was that Mom's love of the orange stuff was quietly undermining her kid's well-being. Don't mistake SunnyD for OJ; there's just 5 percent real juice in this bottle, which means the other 95 percent is well-marketed sugar water. Do you really want your child slurping down the sugar equivalent of a dozen Chips Ahoy cookies?

    Drink this instead!
    Capri Sun Tropical Fruit Roarin' Water (6.8 ounces)
    35 calories
    0 g fat
    9 g sugars

    Tip: Avoid the 20 worst drinks in America.

  • Worst side

    17. Bob Evans Smiley Face Potatoes
    524 calories
    31 g fat (6 g saturated)
    646 mg sodium

    These incessantly smiling potatoes are more than just creepy; they're more fat- and calorie-packed than Bob's Sirloin Steak. Let this be a lesson to you youngsters: Just because they're smiling doesn't make them nice.

    Eat this instead!
    Home Fries
    159 calories
    3 g fat (1 g saturated)
    533 mg sodium

  • Worst PB&J

    16. Atlanta Bread Company Peanut Butter & Jelly
    550 calories
    15 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
    690 mg sodium
    34 g sugars

    Apparently it's a bad idea to stick an American classic on French bread. How else could we explain a 550-calorie peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Toss some chips onto that plate and you've got a meal that can quickly make a small child big. Make this meal at home instead and you not only save a ton of money, but you can also cut the caloric load by half.

    Eat this instead!
    Kids Cheese Pizza
    300 calories
    7 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
    660 mg sodium

  • Worst mall snack

    Image: Auntie Anne's Pepperoni Pretzel Pocket
    auntieannes.com

    15. Auntie Anne's Pepperoni Pretzel Pocket
    650 calories
    27 g fat (12 g saturated)
    1,120 mg sodium
    11 g sugars

    Oversize pretzels are already precarious, because they pack a ton of empty carbohydrates. So stuffing a pretzel with sausage is wrapping barbed wire around a fire ax. It will take more than a day of walking around the mall for your kid to burn off all the fat in this greasy fat sponge. (Better warm up that credit card!)

    Eat this instead!
    Pretzel Dog
    360 calories
    20 g fat (9 g saturated)
    740 mg sodium

  • Worst sandwich

    14. Au Bon Pain Kids' Grilled Cheese
    670 calories
    41 g fat (25 g saturated)
    1,060 mg sodium

    You wouldn't even consider feeding your child this if they called it by its real name: an oil sandwich with cheese. So soaked is this sandwich that you'd need to eat 25 strips of cooked bacon to equal the amount of saturated fat found between the two slices. Wait until you get home — in about 5 minutes you can make a pretty mean 300-calorie grilled cheese sandwich.

    Eat this instead!
    Kids' Macaroni and Cheese
    250 calories
    14 g fat (9 g saturated)
    690 mg sodium

    Tip: Watch out for the worst sandwiches in America.

  • Worst packaged lunch

    13. Kid Cuisine All American Fried Chicken
    (1 package)
    470 calories
    20 g fat (5 g saturated, 1 g trans)
    710 mg sodium

    The Kid Cuisine line of packaged lunches is obviously targeted at children – which can be good or bad. Some of the meals, like the All American Fried Chicken, come packed with a  glut of fat, while others offer surprisingly lean lunch options. Our favorite is the Constructor Beef Patty Sandwich, but feel free to buy the Fiesta Chicken & Cheese Quesadillas and the Cheese Blaster Mac & Cheese as suitable alternatives. Packaged foods will never be as healthy as fresh foods made at home, but feel reassured that this meal will be a fine option in a pinch.

    Eat this instead!
    Kid Cuisine Constructor Beef Patty Sandwich
    (1 meal)
    350 calories
    9 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
    480 mg sodiumHillshire Farm Deli Wrap Smokehouse Ham & Swiss Wrap Kit
    260 calories
    11 g fat (4 g saturated)
    960 mg sodium

  • Worst dessert

    Image: Uno Chicago Grill Kid's Sundae
    uno.com

    12. Uno Chicago Grill Kid's Sundae
    860 calories
    38 g fat (20 g saturated)
    94 g sugars

    Consider the repercussions of slapping three Baby Ruth bars' worth of fat and sugar onto the end of your child's meal. Weighing in at an astounding 3/4 pound, this abominable sundae is twice as big as the Kid's Pasta, and twice as caloric as a child's entire meal should be.

    Eat this instead!
    Kid's Slush
    70 calories
    0 g fat

    17 g sugars

    Tip: Go ahead, indulge in the 15 healthiest desserts in America.

  • Worst burger

    Image: Ruby Tuesday Kids Turkey Minis & Fries
    rubytuesday.com

    11. Ruby Tuesday Kids Turkey Minis & Fries
    873 calories
    46 g fat
    88 g carbohydrates

    When we first pointed out how bad this restaurant kids' meal was, Ruby Tuesday sprang into action, shrinking the meal down to save ... a total of 20 calories. That's not going to help your child fight obesity and all the health problems that can come with it, not when these mini burgers still have more calories than a Wendy's formidable Baconator. The best solution? Avoid Ruby's burgers entirely. Chicken and broccoli, at just 201 calories, is best, but the chop steak plate is like eating a burger without the bun (not to mention all those excess calories).

    Eat this instead!
    Chop Steak & Mashed Potatoes
    403 calories
    30 g fat
    15 g carbohydrates

    Tip: Avoid the nine worst burgers in America.

  • Worst homestyle meal

    10. Boston Market's Kids' Meat Loaf with Sweet Potato Casserole and Cornbread
    890 calories
    46.5 g fat (17.5 g saturated)
    131 g carbohydrates
    1,500 mg sodium

    This is not your mother's meat loaf — and that's too bad. This slab-o-meat begins as beef and ends as a science project with 55 ingredients that include the understandable (cheese cultures), the detestable (partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil), and the unpronounceable (azodicarbonamide). Stack the amalgamation next to a sugar-and-cream-injected sweet potato and a starchy piece of cornbread and you're asking your kid to be the lab rat. We can tell you right now, the results will be big. Roast turkey provides a safe haven for discerning eaters.

    Eat this instead!
    Kids' Roasted Turkey with Green Bean Casserole and Cornbread
    390 calories
    9 g fat (3 g saturated)
    36 g carbohydrates
    1,045 mg sodium

  • Worst pasta meal

    9. Romano's Macaroni Grill Fettuccine Alfredo
    890 calories
    67 g fat (38 g saturated)
    1,480 mg sodium

    This plate of noodles has 2 days' worth of saturated fat — for a full-grown adult! For a kid, this could serve as a precursor for obesity. And to make matters worse, Macaroni Grill likes to throw in a free ice cream with every kids' meal. They sure don't make it easy to be a responsible parent.

    Eat this instead!
    Cheeseoli
    440 calories
    20 g fat (12 g saturated)
    1,280 mg sodium

  • Worst Mexican meal

    8. On the Border Kids Bean and Cheese Nachos
    980 calories
    57 g fat (29 g saturated)
    1,850 mg sodium

    On the Border's Beef Soft Taco meal has been downsized just enough to keep it from topping our list this year. But we've spotted several other troubling dishes in the kids' domain, especially this plate of nachos. It's hard to imagine how chips, cheese, and beans are transformed into a day and a half worth of saturated fat, but once you see the train wrecks on the adult side of the menu, you begin to understand.

    Eat this instead!
    Kids' Grilled Chicken with black beans
    310 calories
    9 g fat (3 g saturated)
    1,230 mg sodium

    Tip: These Mexican staples should be part of every kid's diet.

  • Worst pizza

    7. Uno Chicago Grill Kid's Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza
    980 calories
    70 g fat (20 g saturated)
    1,860 mg sodium

    We analyzed every kids' pizza in every chain restaurant in America, and these sloppy slices beat out the next closest competitor by 27 grams of fat. Calorie-wise, it's like eating more than two whole boxes of Bagel Bites.

    Eat this instead!
    Macaroni and Cheese
    480 calories
    16 g fat (5 g saturated)
    1,200 mg sodium

    Tip: Here are the best and worst pizzas in America.

  • Worst chicken meal

    6. Chili's Pepper Pals Little Chicken Crispers with Ranch and Homestyle Fries
    1,010 calories
    75 g fat (13 g saturated)
    1,780 mg sodium

    A moderately active 8-year-old boy should eat around 1,600 calories a day. This single meal plows through about 65 percent of that allotment. Unless he plans on munching on nothing but celery the rest of the day, he ought to plan on skipping the country-fried crispers.

    Eat this instead!
    Pepper Pals Grilled Chicken Platter with Cinnamon Apples
    340 calories
    8 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
    755 mg sodium

  • Worst finger food

    5. Denny's Little Dipper Sampler with Honey Mustard Dressing Dipping Sauce and Deep Space French Fries
    1,030 calories
    61 g fat (15 g saturated)
    1,590 mg sodium

    Nuggets, mozzarella sticks, and fries make an unholy trinity of sodium and saturated fat. Parents can choose the convenience of giving their tots something that doesn't require a fork to eat, but not if it delivers two-thirds of the kid's daily calories.

    Eat this instead!
    Moons & Stars Chicken Nuggets with BBQ Sauce and Moon Crater Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
    430 calories
    17 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
    1,488 mg sodium

  • Worst drink

    4. Baskin-Robbins Small Snickers Shake
    1,040 calories
    50 g fat
    (26 g saturated, 1 g trans)
    112 g sugars

    Baskin-Robbins has a whole line of these candy-themed shakes to help nudge your child toward a lifetime of elevated blood sugar. How they manage to fit so much fat and sugar into a 16-ounce cup is a mystery of modern food science. This one's the equivalent of nearly 4 whole Snickers bars. You're better off giving your kid the real candy.

    Drink this instead!
    Small Strawberry Citrus Fruit Blast
    350 calories
    1 g fat (0 g saturated)
    85 g sugars

  • Worst drive-thru meal

    Image: Burger King Kids' Double Cheeseburger
    bk.com

    3. Burger King Kids' Double Cheeseburger with Small Fries and Coke
    1,100 calories
    52 g fat (17.5 g saturated, 1.5 g trans)
    1,870 mg sodium

    BK's double beef earns the distinction of being the fattest meal for an on-the-go kid. It has 18 more grams of fat than the same meal at McDonald's. The meal might be quick, but it takes a long time for a 90-pound child to burn all those calories.

    Eat this instead!
    Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Apple Fries, Caramel Dipping Sauce, and Low-Fat Milk
    340 calories
    8 g fat (3 g saturated)
    505 mg sodium

    Tip: Watch out for the worst drive-thru meals in America.

  • Worst Chinese entree

    2. P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken on Brown Rice
    1,210 calories
    51 g fat (9 g saturated)
    610 mg sodium

    Although P.F. Chang's doesn't offer a proper kids' menu, this is the item it identifies on its menu as the "Kids' #1 Favorite." As a single entrée, this dish will saddle your child with two-thirds of her day's calories and nearly an entire day's worth of fat. They put the lazy Susan on the tables at Chang's for a reason; these dishes need to be shared.

    Eat this instead!
    Almond and Cashew Chicken on Brown Rice
    294 calories
    10 g fat (2 g saturated)
    1,694 mg sodiums

  • The worst kids' meal in America

    1. Uno Chicago Grill Kids' Kombo with French Fries
    1,250 calories
    79 g fat (11.5 g saturated)
    2,850 mg sodium

    For food marketers, the color of money isn't green — it's beige. Any parent knows that most foods kids clamor for, from fries to white bread to chicken nuggets, come in beige. It's also a marker of cheap, calorie-rich, nutritionally bankrupt foodstuffs. So when you see this monochromatic cluster of cheese sticks, dinosaur-shaped chicken, and fried potatoes, you know your kid's in trouble. Make it a rule when eating out: All dishes must come with at least two colors (and ketchup doesn't count).

    Eat this instead!
    Kids Pasta
    300 calories
    3 g fat (0 g saturated)
    270 mg sodium

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