- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kid food, for the most part, has never been a nutritional bonanza. Restaurant meals, fast food, sugary juices and cereals make up a minefield in the quest for healthy eating.

Often, parents make choices that seem healthy but really are junk in disguise. Likewise, food items that sound junky can be more nutritious than they seem if you weigh factors such as sugar, fiber, fat and sodium.

A new book, “Eat This, Not That! For Kids,” lays it all out in color. Spurred by the success of “Eat This, Not That!” - a similar book that came out in 2007 and is still in the top 100 in sales on Amazon.com - the editors of Men’s Health magazine have taken their research and applied it to foods children like best.

“In eating, what seems to be a simple decision can become very complicated,” says Matt Goulding, co-author of the book along with David Zinczenko. “In our modern food culture, things are not always what they seem.”

Mr. Goulding says the healthy-sounding items often are bait-and-switch come-ons for consumers.

“The turkey wraps, the tuna sandwiches, the chicken salads,” he says. “They make up a class of ‘healthy’ foods that aren’t.”

Some of those culprits are highlighted in the book: A Starbucks walnut bran muffin (430 calories, 16 grams of fat and 26 grams of sugar), Jamba Juice Orange Dream Machine (340 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 69 grams of sugar), and Sun-Maid Vanilla Yogurt Cranberries (120 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar).

The book uses bright graphics and pictures to spell out exactly what children might be eating. One section covers family restaurants from McDonald’s to Macaroni Grill. Other sections cover school lunches, ethnic foods, snacks, breakfast foods, drinks and candy, among others.

The book also lists the 20 worst children’s foods in America. Category winners include Macaroni Grill’s Double Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese (600 calories, 31 grams of fat, 1,720 milligrams of sodium) and Baskin-Robbins Heath Bar Shake (990 calories, 46 grams of fat and 113 grams of sugar in a small-size serving). The worst kids’ meal in America: Chili’s Pepper Pals Country Fried Chicken Crispers, with 1,110 calories, 82 grams of fat and 1,980 milligrams of sodium in a serving.

The authors point out that many families clearly need to be reminded to “eat this.” Portion sizes are up, the average American child consumes 150 more calories per day than children did 20 years ago, and the obesity rate has doubled since the 1970s.

Meanwhile, children eat an average of 167 restaurant meals a year, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.

“The ultimate take-away is that we make up to a dozen food choices a day,” Mr. Goulding says. “In every one of those decisions, parents have the opportunity to save calories and increase nutrition.”

Keith Ayoob, a pediatric nutritionist and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says anything that gets parents thinking about what children are eating is a good start. However, it could be too little too late for some families.

“Unfortunately, if you are making a decision to eat out, you have already chosen what you are going to eat when you chose where you were going to eat,” he says. “For years, you have been able to order a McDonald’s salad and apple slices, but is that why you are going to McDonald’s? Probably not.”

Mr. Ayoob says the obesity problem is complicated by the increasing frequency with which families are eating at restaurants or ordering takeout - making it tougher to track portion sizes and fat grams.

“It is OK to eat out once in a while,” Mr. Ayoob says, “but if you are eating out three times a week, that is a lifestyle choice. At that point, you want to treat restaurant meals respectfully.”

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