Washington Food choices for children at table-service restaurant chains aren't necessarily healthier than the food offered at fast-food outlets, according to a survey out Tuesday.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the bulk of menu choices for kids at table-service restaurants -- french fries, chicken fingers, burgers and pizzas -- have enough calories, bad fats and salt to make McDonald's Happy Meal look like a healthy feast.
The survey of 20 of America's biggest table-service chain restaurants that offer kids' menus showed that all but one menu offered french fries and 85 percent had burgers.
The group also commissioned independent analysis of typical foods from seven chains -- Applebee's, Chili's, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster -- to determine calories, total fat, saturated-plus-trans fat and sodium.
"Many parents appreciate the kid-friendly atmosphere and free crayons at places like Applebee's, but not many would expect adult-sized calorie counts in a children's meal," said Jayne Hurley, the group's senior nutritionist.
For example, at Applebee's, the Grilled Cheese Sandwich has 520 calories and 14 grams of bad fat. With fries, the meal has 900 calories, the study said.
At Outback Steakhouse, the Boomerang Cheese Burger with Fries has 840 calories and 31 grams of saturated-plus-trans fat.
The Agriculture Department recommends low-active children ages 4 to 8 have 1,500 calories and 17 grams of saturated-plus-trans fat daily.
The National Restaurant Assn. called the survey "another stale and worn-out attempt by CSPI to sensationalize an issue" and "vilify the food industry."
"Our nation's restaurants have long provided a wide variety of options that can meet any individual's dietary preferences," it said.
The group's spokeswoman, Katharine Kim, said that many of the nation's 878,000 restaurants -- including both table-service and quick-service outlets -- are responding to consumer demands for healthy options, and for food to be prepared in a more healthful way.