by Marion Nestle
Feb 15 2011

Healthy kids’ meals: the default

Margo Wootan, the nutrition policy director at  Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), sent along CSPI’s new materials on its Default Project—making healthy kids’ meals the default.

This is a really good idea.  Plenty of evidence shows that customers typically take the default whenever it is offered.

The idea is that if parents order a “happy meal” for their kids, the meal is automatically a healthy one.  Parents can always order junk food for their kids if they want to, so the choice is theirs.

I’ve been telling restaurant chain owners to do this for years.  It’s great to have the rationale explained and substantiated.  Thanks Margo!

  • Wouldn’t it be great if they could get the clerk to also ask: ‘would you like tap water and an apple with that?’ as the default instead of ‘would you like the larger option?’

    I know, dream on.

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  • DennisP

    “I’ve been telling restaurant chain owners to do this for years.” How touchingly naive, Marion. And how touchingly naive of Michelle Obama. Of course that would be nice to see. But it ain’t going to happen in any meaningful way because it would cost them profits.

    My touchstone is Dave Kessler’s book The End of Overeating. Food firms deliberately jam salt, sugar, and fats into food, trying to create addictions to modern, processed foods. That’s called “value-added” – it creates more profits for food firms, including restaurants. Going back to real food would just cut profits. Firms will take small steps in that direction because of public pressure, but only enough to take the heat off them. The drive for profits reigns supreme.

  • ASK


    I guess the question now is whether we can raise enough pressure on the firms to make them choose the healthy option. It’s going to take a lot of environmental shifts in the nation’s conception of food though. We’re too used to ‘eating with our eyes’ as Michael Pollan said. It takes thinking one step further to stop from over-indulging.

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  • FG_2009

    One thing that I don’t like in any kids meals offered in many restaurants is the low quality – normally things are just the deep fried, unhealthy options. I pretty much order something for me and share with my daughter and skip the kids meals all together

  • Barabra

    healthy meals should be the default and the standart. I agree it takes a cultural change to achieve such changes. but i think we are in the right path.

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