Healthier fast food side options hard to find on menu

In the past decade, healthier “side” options have made their way on to many fast-food children’s menus. Despite their presence, these options are very rarely promoted as the default option. For example, a burger is often automatically paired with fries while other healthier options, like salad or fruit, are difficult to locate on the menu.

Eating out at fast-food restaurants is part of a typical week for many families. Most restaurants focus on pleasing the consumer’s palate, not nutritional value, which generally means meals higher in fat and calories than a home-cooked meal.

Children consume 150 more calories when they eat fast-food over a home-cooked meal. Simple steps, like replacing a sugary beverage with water or opting for a salad instead of fries, can help to counteract the excess calorie intake.

A study led by author Megan Mueller, a researcher at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in Los Angeles, analyzed 20 difference fast-food menus over an 11-year period. The study was conducted to help understand the introduction of healthier options over time and if they were “featured” on the menu.

Of the 20 fast-food chains that were studied, 30% offered a healthier side as their default option by 2015. “It was surprising to see how much progress these restaurants made in offering healthier sides and beverages as options in children’s meals, but how much more progress still needs to be made in offering these healthier items by default,” Mueller said.

Offering a healthier choice as the default is crucial because it helps us instinctively choose something, but also takes the title of “normal” away from an unhealthy option, like french fries or soda. By labeling calories and steering away from advertising the unhealthier options, we can help steer kids and adults in the right direction.

To learn more: “U.S. fast food chains offering more healthy options for kids” by Reuters

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