ORDERING FROM THE CHILDREN’S MENU: the brain-body connection

Everyone knows this country has an obesity problem. You don’t need statistics like the survey revealing that rates have increased significantly since 1999–2000, when 13.9% of children and 30.5% of adults were obese. In 2015-16, the survey found 18.5% of children hit the target while 39.6 of adults were obese. Rates differed by ethnicity, too, with whites less susceptible, and the higher-income and better-educated folks also less likely to over-indulge. A friend of mine used to chuckle over the stereotypes running rife at “natural foods” stores like Wild Oats and Sprouts, where skinny white women seemed to hold sway.

Fast food comes in for a hefty amount of criticism for its supposedly unhealthy ingredients and large portions. Servings in these establishments have grown parallel with the average body weight of a person from the 70s to now. People tend to eat the complete meal or serving regardless of feeling full or not. We’ve gotten used to larger portions, and we expect them. Common opinions include “I want my money’s worth,” and “We love coming here because the portion sizes are huge.” Most restaurants serve two to three times more than the healthy portion sizes recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

There’s a simple solution, but one not generally supported by the food service industry. Order from the children’s menu. Most menus have a warning that diners must be under ten or twelve to order from the kids’. A few also allow senior citizens to indulge from the list, but many simply prohibit the practice.

Why? Rather than passing laws to ban “unhealthy” snacks in schools, why not insist that restaurants and places where people buy large helpings of food also offer smaller servings and approve ordering food by size rather than age?

Take a look at the average calorie content for McDonald’s children’s meals. A Hamburger Happy Meal clocks in at 475 calories, a 4 piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal at 405 calories, and a 6 piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal at 495 calories. Over at Olive Garden, eaters can easily keep their caloric intake at about 500 to 750 by selecting from the kids’ choices. These are reasonable amounts for many adults to eat, too.

The restaurant industry is generally not supportive of this move. I’ve landed in several major brouhahas with my determined requests to act childish. Well, if the businesses don’t favor this approach, why not cut the average size of a portion by 50% and reduce the price by only one-third?

I remember a Weight Watchers’ leader years ago telling the audience, “You’re the customer. Ask for what you want or take your business elsewhere.” Sounds like good advice to me.

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