Explainer: Worst offenders at Olive Garden, Applebee's

  • Childhood obesity rates in America have tripled since 1980: Today, 19.6 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are obese, and 18.1 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 19 are 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. Michelle Obama has recently launched an initiative to combat childhood obesity. She might want to begin by targeting these worst restaurant kids' meals — the authors of "Eat This, Not That!" have singled out five of the most disgusting kid meals in America.

  • Olive Garden Fettuccini Alfredo meal

    800 calories
    48 g fat (30 g saturated)
    810 mg sodium

    Saturated fat equivalent: 1.5 full jars of Nutella!

    I don’t know who this guy Alfredo is, but I’d like to give him a piece of my mind. This sauce is made with oil, butter, cream, and cheese. It’s always going to be rich, but the saturated fat here is just out of control. The American Heart Association recommends that none of us exceed 7 percent of our total calories from saturated fat, but this sauce has 4 times that. It’s true that most kids don’t have to worry about heart attacks, but they do have to worry about obesity. About a third of the calories on this plate are from saturated fat. Another third come from carbohydrates. That leaves very little room for anything even remotely redeeming.

    Eat this instead:

    Cheese Ravioli
    300 calories
    8 g fat (4 g saturated)
    440 mg sodium

    This meal still provides the rich flavor of cheese, but it serves it in a reasonable portion. The secret here, and you should always look for this when you’re eating Italian, is that it’s served in a low-fat, highly nutritious tomato-based sauce. You see anything served in a white sauce, and you don’t want your kid to touch it.

    Bonus tip: Sometimes losing weight is just a matter of watching what you drink. Keep your kids away from all the beverages on this list of the worst drinks in America.

  • Applebee’s Grilled Cheese with French fries

    1,020 calories
    54 g fat (17 g saturated)
    2,170 mg sodium

    Calorie equivalent: 400 Cheddar Goldfish Crackers. (That’s 1.3 full bags!)

    Here’s the crazy part: You can make a grilled cheese sandwich in your own house — using real cheese and toasting it with real butter — and still manage to slide in at about 300 calories. This one has 620 calories, and the fries account for the extra 400.

    Eat this instead:

    Hot dog with applesauce
    300 calories
    13 g fat (4 g saturated)
    860 mg sodium

    A hot dog is no nutritional ideal, but so long as it’s not a big stadium brat, it does have the advantage of being relatively low in calories. And kids love it. Then swap out the fries for something truly nutritious, like vegetables or applesauce.

    Bonus tip: Don’t forget to watch your own food intake when you’re eating out with your children. Avoid all items on our list of the worst foods in America.

  • Outback Steakhouse Kookaburra Chicken Fingers meal with Aussie Fries

    1,030 calories
    60 g fat (21 g saturated)
    2,052 mg sodium

    Fat equivalent: 12 Frosted Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tarts!

    Beige food, never a good choice. If this is what they’re eating “down under,” I think we’re better off staying up here. And here’s something else we don’t talk about as much with kids’ foods: sodium. This meal has almost as much as your child should eat in an entire day. That’s dangerous for two reasons: 1. It puts a strain on a child’s cardiovascular system, and 2. It reinforces a taste preference for sodium-loaded foods, so they’ll have a hard time ever breaking free from the salt shaker.

    Eat this instead:

    Joey Sirloin with Fresh Seasonal Veggies
    435 calories
    28.5 g fat (15 g saturated)
    631 mg sodium

    But, if we can get kids eating real food earlier in life, they’ll be primed for staying fit and healthy well into old age. Despite what some people might think about eating red meat, sirloin steak is immensely nutritious. It’s lean, loaded with protein, and rich in vitamins and minerals.

    Bonus tip: Lose weight by cutting liquid calories — see how in our new book, "Drink This, Not That!"

  • Denny’s Slap Shot Sliders (2) meal with Finish Line Fries

    1070 calories
    53 g fat (16 g saturated, 2 g trans)
    1180 mg sodium

    Calorie equivalent: 505 Jujubes (That’s just over 2 full boxes!)

    This meal is an assault to children’s health and the world of sports. It uses athletic terminology to essentially sell food that turns kids into little sumo wrestlers. Again, there’s more than a thousand calories in this meal. A 10-year-old kid should be eating only about 1,600-to-1,800 calories over the course of an entire day. You eat this meal and then just a couple small snacks throughout the day, and you’re already there.

    Eat this instead:

    Spaghetti, Set, Go! With Apple Dunkers and Caramel Dip
    390 calories
    7 g fat (2 g saturated)
    325 mg sodium

    Again, we’ve got the red marinara sauce, which is very good. We’ve also got slices of apple with caramel dip. This is something we’re seeing on more and more restaurant menus. Kids like it because it has the same finger-food appeal as french fries, and parents like it because it won’t make their kids look like lumpy sacks of potatoes.

    Bonus tip: Another sneaky source of calories: Wayward snacking. Is your child snacking smart? See the good — and bad — chips and dips choices on our list of the best and worst chips and dips.

  • Friendly’s Mac & Cheese Quesadilla meal with Friendly Frank, Shirley Temple and Friend-z Peanut Butter Cup

    2,270 calories
    109 g fat (45 g saturated)
    3,320 sodium

    Calorie equivalent: 45.5 Glazed Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts!

    Friendly? Ha! This restaurant deserves the Phoniest Name of the Decade Award. This meal has an entire day’s worth of calories for a full-grown adult. Plus it has more saturated fat or sodium than you should ever see at one table. Part of the problem here is the pile-on policy: The entrée plus the side plus the drink plus the dessert. All of that comes with the meal. And dessert? Since when did dessert stop being extra? This is just dangerous food that gets a boost from a bad policy.

    Eat this instead:

    Grilled Cheese With Mandarin Oranges, 1% Milk, and a Double Shot Cone
    800 calories
    34 g fat (19 g saturated)
    1150 mg sodium

    Now here’s what’s crazy: The same sandwich that had more than 600 calories at Applebee’s — the grilled cheese — has only 290 calories at Friendly’s. That’s good, but it still comes with that obligatory dessert, which keeps this meal in the caloric danger zone. At 270 calories, The Double Shot Cone is the best you can do, but if you tell the server to leave it off, your child suddenly has a reasonable 530-calorie entrée.


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