"Kids Meals" have hidden costs as they pack on the calories

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A new study reported in USA Today finds that "kids meals" at chain and fast food restaurants are too high in calories for a single meal. According to the analysis from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, some meals contain more than 1,000 calories, which is the typical daily calorie count per DAY for elementary school children. Considering that the average child, under 18, eats 167 restaurant meals in a year, that is a lot of calories.

This does not surprise me. All you have to do is look around. When I was a kid, we were all skinny. It was unusual to see a heavy-set kid in the class. Now I go to my daughter's swim class and the majority of the kids are overweight. Granted, kids may be sitting more, but I vote that the eating habits are more of the problem.

So why do parents buy the fast food for their kids? It's easy and fast. But is it really cheap? At first glance it appears so since you can often get a meal for under $5. Compare that to fresh, healthy food like fruits and vegetables and it may be cheaper to eat the fast food.

But the long term the costs are huge. Obesity affects every organ in a kid's body and affects self-esteem and development. They are more at risk to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and host of other costly illnesses. Obese kids tend to become obese adults with years of lousy eating habits to increase their weight.

The costs to society are also huge. Overweight and obesity costs total $117 billion per year in the United States and diabetes is the fastest growing disease in the country. Doctor's are now seeing Type 2 diabetes, which use to be a disease of middle age, in children. The fast food does not look so cheap now.

What is a parent to do? Stay away from restaurant eating and eat at home. It can be cheaper if you do it right. My easy formula is to shop only the perimeter of the grocery store. That is where the fresh stuff is. Don't even go down the aisles. You really don't need the chips, soda, and junk food.

Barbara Bartlein is The People Pro. A relationship expert, she is the author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway? Overcoming the Myths that Hinder a Happy Marriage. For more tips and tool visit Marriage Tips. To receive Barb's Free E-mail Newsletter, sign up at The People Pro.

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