Eating out has nutrition and health consequences for adults, but children are especially vulnerable. When children eat out, they typically consume more calories, added sugars, and sugary drinks. Kids also eat fewer fruits, vegetables, and whole grains when they eat out than when they eat at home.

These meals not only have immediate health consequences, but also they can impact food preferences and social norms that can effect health long into adulthood.

Efforts to improve restaurant kids' meals

The national movement to improve restaurant kids' meals is growing. Communities and corporations have recognized the need for healthier options on the kids' menu. These improvements have been made through multiple avenues.

State and local legislation

Communities across the United States have adopted polices that seek to improve the nutritional quality of children's meals. The first kids' meal policy was passed in 2010 in Santa Clara County, California and set nutrition standards for meals that were sold with toys. Since then, nearly two dozen other states and localities have adopted kids' meal policies, including toy bills, healthy default beverages, and full meal nutrition standards. See a map of the states and localities that have passed kids' meals policies.

Corporate kids' meal commitments

Restaurants are taking action to improve kids' meals by adopting company-wide standards for children's meals. These policies vary from restaurant to restaurant. Some chains have removed sugary drinks from their kids' menu, while others have gone a step further and have set nutrition standards for the entire kids' menu.

The real life impact

These efforts to improve restaurant kids' meals are paying off.

  • The percentage of top 50 restaurant chains offering sugary drinks on their kids' menu has dropped from 93% in 2008, to 61% in 2019.
  • In 2020, the Kids LiveWell program was strengthened and now requires participating restaurants to have healthy default beverages and two meals and two side dishes that meet nutrition standards (up from one each) on their kids' menu.
  • In the past year, four localities and one state have passed kids' meal legislation

However, more work can be done to improve restaurant kids' meals. The majority of top 50 restaurants still offer sugary drinks on their kids' menus, and unhealthy foods like fried chicken, burgers, and fried potatoes dominate the menus.

Types of kids' meal legislation

There are multiple ways advocates can improve restaurant kids' meals at the state and local level.

Sara Ribakove's (she/her/hers) work is focused on creating a healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable food system. Sara oversees CSPI’s work on improving the nutritional quality of food for children in restaurants and reducing unhealthy food marketing.

Katie Marx (she/her/hers) provides support for numerous CSPI initiatives. She works closely on projects related to food marketing to kids and restaurant children's meals.