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Dairy Queen Eliminates Soda From Its Kids’ Menu

Dairy Queen Eliminates Soda From Its Kids’ Menu

Dairy Queen jumps on the bandwagon (a little late) of fast food chains to remove soft drinks from their kids’ menus


No more sodas… but kids can still gorge themselves on DQ’s famous shakes.

Another day, another fast food restaurant scrambling to rebrand as a more health-conscious eatery. Following in the footsteps of Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, Dairy Queen announced today that by September 1, soft drinks will be removed from the kids’ menu.

Although the news is not official yet, a letter from Dairy Queen to concerned parties at the Center for Science in the Public says, “We have been working with our Franchise Advisory Council (FAC) on a proposal to remove soft drinks from the kids’ menu board at Dairy Queen locations across the country. Under our recommendation, drinks such as milk and bottled water would solely be listed as menu options at DQ locations. I am pleased to inform you that during our most recent meeting, the FAC voted unanimously to remove soft drinks from our kids’ menu.”

As at most other fast food restaurants, a customer can still order a kid’s meal and a soda, but the soda will not be a default option.

“Dairy Queen deserves credit for being responsive to the concerns of parents, who increasingly want to be able to order off the kids’ menu without having to say ‘no’ to soda,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, said in a statement.

Dairy Queen nixes sugary drinks on kids’ menu

Dairy Queen is removing sugary drinks from its children’s menu, bowing to a request from health advocates.

The ice-cream and fast-food chain will remove soft drinks, including the neon colored Arctic Rush frozen beverage, from its kids’ menu and replace them with healthier options such as bottled water and milk.

The move was announced by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which said McDonald’s (MCD), Burger King and Wendy’s have all made similar moves.

“Dairy Queen deserves credit for being responsive to the concerns of parents, who increasingly want to be able to order off the kids’ menu without having to say ‘no’ to soda,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan.

DQ, as the company known, is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA). Nearly all of its 6,400 locations are operated as franchises. But the company’s franchise committee unanimously agreed to the menu change, which will take effect in September.
dairy queen blizzard

It’s part of a shift in the food industry as consumers demand better options at fast-food chains and the grocery store.

Restaurant chains like Chipotle (CMG) and Panera Bread (PNRA) have been the most aggressive, eliminating genetically-modified produce and artificial additives.

Big food companies have also been moving that direction. Kraft Foods (KRFT), for example, removed artificial colors from its macaroni and cheese, famous for its bright orange color.

However, public health advocates say the restaurant industry needs to do more. CSPI says 97% of the food on children’s menus at the top restaurant chains are unhealthy.

“One by one, restaurants are listening to parents and public health experts and starting to do their part to help keep kids healthy, but we aren’t done yet,” said Monifa Bandele, a director with the group

Specifically, the group called on Applebee’s and Chili’s to show the same kind of “corporate responsibility” as DQ.

Whatever changes are made at DQ, the company’s owner is still a big fan of sweets and soda.

Buffett was asked recently about his investments in companies that sell sugary food and beverages. In addition to DQ, Berkshire owns See’s Candy and has a large stake in Coke (KO).

But the billionaire investing guru was unrepentant about his love for junk food. He joked that one-quarter of all the calories he gets are from Coke products and added that he never sees anyone smiling at Whole Foods.

© 2015 US Food Safety Corporation. No copyright claim is made for portions of this blog and linked items that are works of the United States Government, state governments or third parties.

Applebee's and IHOP Remove Soda From Menu

We've read terrifying things about the effects soda has on our bodies&mdashand what Diet Coke, in particular, does to our teeth&mdashover the years, but only now are chain restaurants beginning to the boot the syrupy stuff from kids' menus.

According to their parent company, DineEquity, Applebee's and IHOP are both taking soda off the menus they offer to children though the drinks will still be available upon request, of course. These restaurants join the ranks of Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Subway, and Panera&mdashall of which have removed the sweet, carbonated drinks from their kids' menus.

"Soda and other sugary drinks promote diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and even heart disease, and a kids' menu is no place for disease-promoting drinks," Center for Science in the Public Interest nutrition policy counsel Jessica Almy wrote in a release. "Responsible restaurants are on the fast track toward making soda for kids a thing of the past."

Though this change doesn't entirely guarantee a healthier meal. As Eater points out, IHOP's "Funny Face" chocolate-chip pancakes for children contains 21 grams of sugar (more than 5 teaspoons' worth) and 1,090 milligrams of sodium on top of the 480-calorie count. And at Applebee's, things are even worse: Two mini cheeseburgers clock in with 680 calories and 1,570 milligrams of sodium. To each his own, we guess.

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Pop, cola, soda: Whatever name you know them by, you won't find these sugary soft drinks on the kids' menu at Applebee's and IHOP anymore. They'll still be available upon request, according to a statement from the chains' parent company DineEquity, but won't be default options. A study in research journal Obesity suggests customers tend to order the default at restaurants, so removing the temptation of soda should have a notable impact, despite Coca-Cola's continued attempts to convince the public that inactivity is the only thing causing childhood obesity.

In an announcement yesterday from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that works to "transform the American diet," nutrition policy counsel Jessica Almy praised the move, noting, "A kids' menu is no place for disease-promoting drinks." She called on other sit-down chains like Chili's to "follow Applebee's lead," joining Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, and others in eliminating from the kids' menu the sweet beverages that NFL star Tom Brady calls "poison for kids."

Just because soda's been removed from the kids' menus doesn't mean you're in for a healthy meal at either restaurant, though, based on governmental dietary guidelines. IHOP's offerings include the Funny Face chocolate chocolate chip pancake with whipped cream and powdered sugar, which has 480 calories, 21 grams of sugar, and 1,090 milligrams of sodium. Applebee's has even heftier meals in two categories, "Really Hungry" and "Really Really Hungry," with the two mini cheeseburgers weighing in at 680 calories, 1,570 milligrams of sodium, and 42 grams of fat. One step at a time.

Original Orange Julius Recipe

Orange Julius is one of those drinks that bring so many childhood memories into my mind. It is the drink that my siblings and I would come home to drink every day after school.

The habit has carried on and I still prepare it and drink it now. It is very healthy and easy to make. It takes only five minutes to create this creamy, refreshing, delicious, and sweet drink.

What Is Orange Julius?

Orange Julius is a 5-ingredient orange drink recipe that is easy to make. It is a sublime refreshing drink that you can make quickly at home and everyone will love it.

What makes it different from the normal orange juice is that it is creamy, frothy and more flavorful which makes it really satisfying to drink.

History of Orange Julius

The famous orange Julius drink was first made by Julius Freed in 1926 in Los Angeles, California in the United States of America.

In the beginning, the sales were very modest and reached about 20 dollars a day. Later on, in 1929, Freed’s real estate broker, Bill Hamlin, has suggested a mixture that is less acidic which made it easier for his stomach to digest.

Eventually, Freed made this mixture which made the drink creamier and frothier and started selling it to the public. The sales have gone up from 20 dollars a day to 100 dollars a day.

The beverage has expanded more during the 1950s and 1960s as it started being sold on many shopping malls and county fairs.

The name of Orange Julius came from the way people used to order the drink while waiting in line by saying “give me an orange, Julius!” Currently, the Orange Julius chain has been bought and is run by Dairy Queen where you will most likely find it served in their restaurants.

How to Make Orange Julius?

The way to make an Orange Julius is very simple, easy and doesn’t require lots of ingredients.

These are the following ingredients that you will need: Orange juice concentrate, water, milk, vanilla, powdered sugar and ice cubes.

You put everything together in the blender and you mix and voilà! You can drink your homemade orange Julius now.

Orange Julius Variations

You can always get creative when it comes to making drinks that are made have an orange flavor and this is also the case with Orange Julius.

Here are some few variations that you can use to switch a little bit from the classical orange Julius flavor.

Dairy-free coconut orange:

If you want a dairy-free beverage then the task is easy. Use coconut milk instead of dairy milk.

You might even like it better than the original one as coconut adds such a tropical and fresh taste to the drink.

Strawberry orange:

Strawberries work like a charm with almost any juice or smoothie.

Throw some fresh or frozen strawberries into the blender with all of the other ingredients and mix together.

Five discontinued fast-food items I want back

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It never fails: Just when I become emotionally -- and occasionally physically -- attached to a certain fast-food item, the corporate overlords snatch it away like fiendish villains in a Joss Whedon movie (or one of his TV shows that hasn't been cancelled prematurely). Okay, so some items don't sell as well as others, but what's that compared to the disheartened inconvenience that we faithful fast-foodies are forced to endure when we all have to learn to love new things? What about the delicious cheesy, beefy, crunchy, oniony and frozen-yogurty old things?

Here's my list of five discontinued fast-food items that I want back. And why not bring them back? The chains can just market them as "retro," which will make them very hip.

5. Burger King's Yumbo. Back in the 1970s (when I was a zygote), and the early 1980s, when I was mostly sentient, Burger King had the Yumbo: a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich that was a godsend for latchkey kids whose parents couldn't fry a f*cking egg to save their lives even when they were home. The aptly named Yumbo filled a white, seeded hamburger bun with sliced ham and two slices of perfectly melted American cheese. The result was hammy, cheesy and delicious, and if anyone ever digs a Yumbo out of a time capsule, even in its degraded state it would still be better than anything similar that Arby's slops out now. 4. McOnion Nuggets from McDonald's. McDonald's had some genius food ideas in the 1980s. McD's deep-fried its pies, used beef-flavored oil to cook its fries, and as more proof that its corporate bigs didn't even pretend to give a fat sh*t about health or nutrition, it offered its own take on onion rings: McOnion Nuggets. They were breaded and deep-fried onion chunks, kinda like the bastard children of hush puppies and onion rings. Things fried in nugget form are déclassé these days, but I guarantee if McDoo brought these back as a special item -- alongside the McRib sandwich, maybe? -- people would drop their bowls of hummus and celery sticks and stuff those McOnion Nuggets down like they were fueled on pure fryer grease, which would then be true. 3. The Breeze from Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen Blizzards are one of America's fast-food staples, largely because there are few toppings that can't be buried in soft-serve ice cream and sold to eager masses. M&Ms, Snickers bars, raisins, croutons and chicken bones -- it doesn't matter so long as they are embedded and served in one of those colorful little cups with a spoon and a straw.

The Breeze was a different take, though, with the thick vanilla ice cream swapped out for lighter, frozen yogurt. It was introduced in 1988, right about the time I was old enough to ride my bike to places to get things. I still recall ordering a Breeze with vanilla fro-yo, fresh bananas and that cherry pie filling-goop. It was satisfying and happened to be lower in fat than the regular Blizzard -- and believe me when I say that that may have been the last time I cared about anything low-fat, mainly because '80s TV commercials said that I should. I have no idea why the Breeze isn't on DQ's menu today, especially since fro-yo shops are spreading like STIs nowadays.

2. McDonald's McDLT.

Over the years, McDoobers has produced some seriously good creations, as well nas some ass-failingly rotten ones. I remember my dad telling me about something called the "Hulaburger" that McDoo made in the 1960s -- apparently this was a cheeseburger minus beef patty, with a slice of grilled pineapple instead I can't imagine why that didn't catch on. I was a kid when McDonald's came out with the McDLT: a quarter-pound burger with lettuce, tomato and mayo, served in a double-sided polystyrene container to -- as the ad campaign want -- "Keep the hot side hot, and the cool side cool."

I'm guessing that this burger didn't survive the 1990s because unwieldy foam containers were destroying the environment, and besides, customers didn't appreciate having to make the supreme effort of assembling the burgers themselves. But I liked not having to eat warm, oily lettuce, and I remember enjoying the sense of accomplishment I got from marrying the hot and cold sides, usually while sitting in the back of my dad's Subaru hatchback, which was already littered with petrified McDonald's fries. We were a loyal McDonald's family. 1. The Bellbeefer from Taco Bell.

When I was a kid, Taco Bell was my favorite fast-food restaurant. I remember the stores being smaller, more fake-Mexican adobe-looking, with greasy red-tiled floors and a menu that had just a dozen or so items, including the Bellbeefer, which dates back to the original Taco Bell menu in 1962. This magnificent construct was a white hamburger bun filled with a scoop of taco meat and topped with shredded cheese, lettuce and diced tomatoes.

I used to order one with a side of Pintos & Cheese and exactly six packets of mild sauce -- two for the Bellbeefer, and four to make cheesy bean soup. The Bellbeefer was a lot like a taco-seasoned sloppy joe it was messy as hell, so I'd set the cup of beans underneath it to catch the falling lettuce shreds and meat glops. But it was fast, cheap and filling, and with a fountain soda it was the perfect meal for a kid like me.

My educated guess as to why the Bell axed this treat? In the 1990s it went all "think outside the bun." And the Bellbeefer was the only thing on the menu actually requiring a bun.

I try to recreate the Bellbeefer at home -- I made them last week for Taco Tuesday at Casa del Jenn -- but I genuinely miss Taco Bell's version, especially since no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to effectively recreate that hot, oily taco shell reek unique to Taco Bell, the essence of which manages to permeate everything on the chain's menu. My "Jenni-bell-beefer" is just not the same without it.

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97% of Kids' Meals Flunk Nutrition, as Fried Chicken Fingers, Burgers, Fries, Soda Dominate at Chain Restaurants

Nearly all of the meal possibilities offered to kids at America's top chain restaurants are of poor nutritional quality, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. In a report released today, the group found that fried chicken fingers, burgers, French fries, and sugar drinks continue to dominate the kids' meal landscape, with 97 percent of the nearly 3,500 meal possibilities not meeting CSPI's nutrition criteria for four- to eight-year-olds.

And if you don't believe CSPI, ask the National Restaurant Association: 91 percent of kids' meals at America's major chains do not even meet the nutritional standards of the industry lobbying group's Kids LiveWell program.

"One out of every three American children is overweight or obese, but it's as if the chain restaurant industry didn't get the memo," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "Most chains seem stuck in a time warp, serving up the same old meals based on chicken nuggets, burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries, and soda."

One chain that has gotten the memo is Subway, according to the report. All eight of Subway restaurants' Fresh Fit for Kids meal combinations met CSPI's nutrition criteria. Subway is the only restaurant chain that does not offer sugar drinks as an option with its kids' meals, instead including low-fat milk or bottled water along with apple slices with all of its kid-sized subs.

"Our goal has always been to provide the most nutritious, balanced kids meals in the industry and we are proud to be recognized by CSPI for achieving that goal," said Lanette Kovachi, corporate dietitian for the Subway brand. "As a mom and a dietitian I know that it's not easy to get kids to eat things that taste great and include essential nutrients. Our menu can make both parent and child happy."

To meet CSPI's nutrition criteria, kids' meals must not exceed 430 calories, more than 35 percent of calories from fat, or more than 10 percent of calories from saturated plus trans fat. Meals that meet CSPI's criteria cannot have more than 35 percent added sugars by weight nor more than 770 milligrams of sodium. The criteria require meals to make a positive nutritional contribution either by providing at least half a serving of fruit or vegetable, including an item that is 51 percent or more whole grain, or including specified levels of vitamins or fiber. CSPI's criteria exclude sugar drinks in favor of water, juice, or low-fat milk. The NRA's standards are quite similar, though they allow more calories.

Some of the least healthy kids' meals available at chain restaurants include:

  • Applebee's Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with Fries and 2 Percent Chocolate Milk has 1,210 calories with 62 grams of total fat (46 percent of calories), 21 grams of saturated fat (16 percent), and 2,340 milligrams of sodium. That meal has nearly three times as many calories, and three times as much sodium, as CSPI's criteria for four-to eight-year-olds allow.
  • Chili's Pepperoni Pizza with Homestyle Fries and Soda has 1,010 calories, 45 grams of total fat (40 percent of calories), 18 grams of saturated fat (16 percent of calories, and about as much saturated fat as an adult should consume in an entire day), and 2,020 milligrams of sodium.
  • Denny's Jr. Cheeseburger and French Fries has 980 calories, 55 grams of total fat (50 percent of calories), 20 grams of saturated fat (18 percent) and 1,110 mg of sodium. Denny's does not include beverages with kids' meals.
  • Ruby Tuesday's Mac 'n Cheese, White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, and Fruit Punch has 860 calories, 46 grams of total fat (48 percent of calories) and 1,730 mg of sodium. Ruby Tuesday's does not disclose saturated or trans fat content on its menus or website.
  • Dairy Queen's Chicken Strips, Kids' Fries, Sauce, Arctic Rush (a Slushee-type frozen drink) and Dilly Bar has 1,030 calories, 45 grams of total fat (39 percent of calories), 15 grams of saturated fat (13 percent of calories), and 1,730 mg of sodium.

At 19 chains, not a single possible combination of the items offered for children met CSPI's nutrition standards. At nine of those 19 chains, including McDonald's, Popeye's, Chipotle, and Hardee's, not a single kids' meal even met the NRA's Kids LiveWell standards. At Wendy's, only five percent of 40 possible kids' meals met CSPI's standards—most items were too high either in sodium or saturated fat at Burger King, just 20 percent of the 15 possible kids' meals met CSPI's criteria. (At both of those chains, the same low percentages of possible meal combinations met the NRA's Kids LiveWell standards.)

CSPI last reviewed the nutritional quality of kids' meals at chain restaurants in 2008. Overall, chains have made little progress since then. In 2008, just one percent of kids' meals met CSPI's nutrition standards, compared with three percent in 2012. Only one-third of the restaurant chains had at least one meal that met the nutritional standards in 2008 that percentage climbed to 44 percent in 2012. While more meals met CSPI's sodium and calorie standards, fewer met CSPI's limit for saturated fat.

The report from CSPI recommends that companies consider several changes. It encourages chains to participate in the NRA's Kids LiveWell program, and to reformulate their kids' meals to meet those standards. Restaurants should offer more fruit and vegetable options, and make those, rather than French fries, the default sides. Chains should offer more whole grains and remove soda or other sugar drinks from kids' menus. And even though Subway was the only chain to meet CSPI's criteria for all its kids' meals, it should increase the whole grain content of its breads and continue to lower sodium, the group says.

"The chain restaurant industry is conditioning kids to accept such a narrow range of foods," said Ameena Batada, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina Asheville. "More chains are adding fruit, like apple slices, to their menus, but practically every chain could be adding more vegetable and whole grain options. And given the impact of sugar drinks on children's health, those should be eliminated from kids' meals at restaurants."

The Dispenser's Formulary or Soda Water Guide (1915)

Enjoy Delicious Homemade Ice Cream Sodas
(Source: ©iStock/liveslow)

These old fashioned ice cream soda recipes produce what's called a GLORIFIED SODA — that is, they are similar to the standard ice cream sodas in method of mixing and serving, but by the expert combination of flavors employed, they enter the extra-fancy class of beverage. —The Dispenser's Formulary

Chocolate Mint

2 ounces chocolate syrup, scoopful of ice cream, sprig of mint. Crush the mint against the side of glass, add ice cream, and fill glass with carbonated water. Price, 10 cents.

Chocolate Noir

2 ounces chocolate syrup, 1/2 glass plain milk, 3 spoonfuls ice cream. Mix in 12-ounce glass, fill with carbonated water, and serve with a spoon. Price, 10 cents.

Frosted Chocolate

Place 2 ounces of chocolate syrup and 2 ounces of cream in a glass, and half-fill with carbonated water. Add 1 ounce of vanilla ice cream, then fill the glass with carbonated water. Top off with whipped cream. Sells for 15 cents.


Take a small amount of each fruit in season, cut very fine into a dish, adding enough simple syrup to cover, and let stand for several hours.

In serving put 2 tablespoonfuls of the mixture into a 12-ounce glass, add ice cream and carbonated water as in other crushed fruit drinks. Price 10 cents.


1 fluid ounce strawberry syrup, 1 fluid ounce vanilla syrup, 1 spoonful ice cream. Place ice cream in a 12-ounce glass, add the syrups and fill with carbonated water.

New York Beauty

1 ounce strawberry syrup, 1 ounce plain syrup, 1-1/2 ounces ice cream. Mix in 12-ounce glass and fill with carbonated water, fine stream.

Grape Gurgle

Into a suitable glass place one scoopful of ice cream, 1 ounce of grape syrup, and enough chipped ice mix thoroughly, strain into a 12-ounce glass and fill with carbonated water, fine stream. Sprinkle with powdered nutmeg or cinnamon.

Ladies Choice

2 ounces raspberry syrup, 2 ounces sweet cream, 2 spoonfuls peach ice cream. Serve with 12-ounce glass like any soda drink with coarse and fine streams of carbonated water to fill glass. Charge 10 cents.

How to Make Ice Cream Sodas

Make a Classic Ice Cream Soda Using Authentic Recipes
(Source: ©everett225/

The traditional ice cream soda recipe calls for a delicious combination of ice cream, soda syrup flavoring, and soda water to make a creamy, frosty beverage with wide appeal.

Use my easy step-by-step method for making an authentic ice cream soda. It's based on the original pharmacy soda fountain formula used by soda jerks. Just follow the easy steps below:

Step 1

Put two to four tablespoonfuls of flavored soda syrup into a tall frosty soda glass by carefully drizzling it down around the sides of the glass.

Step 2

Slowly fill the glass with chilled soda water to about 2 inches or so beneath its rim.

Step 3

Now add a large, round scoop of frozen vanilla ice cream so that it carefully rests directly on the rim of the glass allowing the ice cream and soda water to foam beneath.

But, here's the SECRET.

The ice cream must be positioned on the rim of the glass just right. If it's resting too deep in the soda water the foam will overflow the glass if it's resting too high on the rim there won't be enough foam produced to call it a true soda. With practice, you'll get it perfect.

Step 4

Carefully insert a drinking straw and a long-handled spoon between the ice cream and the rim of the glass and top the beverage off with a generous garnish of whipped cream and a red maraschino cherry.


Experiment by combining different soda syrup flavors and your favorite ice creams. Or, make a Glorified Soda by following any of the old time ice cream soda recipes above. There are infinite possibilities — all are delicious!

Carbonated Water (soda water) can be found for sale in the soft drink section of most food and convenience stores.

Torani Soda Syrups can be found for sale at Amazon in dozens of flavors ranging from Classic Root Beer to Watermelon.

Ice Cream Soda History


Did you know that Lou Costello of the classic Abbott and Costello comedy duo really loved his ice cream sodas?

On March 3, 1959, his dying words were: "That was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted."

It seems the world's first ice cream soda recipe came about by accident at the Philadelphia Exposition in October of 1874. It was there that soda fountain operator Robert M. Green invented the now familiar ice cream soda.

It became the common practice for 19th-century pharmacists to add an ounce or two of flavored soda syrup — vanilla was the favorite — and a tablespoon of thick cream to soda water to make Cream Sodas, and their soda fountain regulars loved them.

The story goes that one day Mr. Green's stand ran out of fresh cream, and he purchased some vanilla ice cream from a nearby ice cream vendor at the fair.

He planned to let it melt and use it as cream, but he became so busy that he added a large spoonful of the frozen ice cream to his customer's cream soda instead.

It was an instant hit! Word spread throughout the fair, and demand for Green's frosty beverage creation grew so great that his profits were said to have risen from $6 to $600 in a single day! A princely sum in 1874!

News of the Ice Cream Soda spread rapidly and soon pharmacies and trendy soda fountains across the land began duplicating Green's ice cream soda recipe to sell frosty sodas to their thirsty customers. And the rest, as they say, is history.

By the numbers: Pop goes soda

While soda hardly is dead, these stats suggest it is falling flat.

Percentage drop in full-calorie soda sales in the U.S. in the past 20 years

4 billion

Decline in orders of soda and milk in the past decade

6 in 10

Portion of U.S. adults who say they try to avoid soda, regular or diet

Percentage of consumers ages 18–34 who are satisfied with fountain-beverage offerings at c-stores, compared to 71 of older consumers

Percentage of college students who prefer to drink water with dinner

Percentage of foodservice directors who expect carbonated soft drinks to grow on menus in the next year or two

Amount of excise tax on sugary drinks in Berkeley, Calif., the first city in the U.S. to levy such a charge

Sources: Technomic The New York Times The NPD Group Gallup FSD

DQ hits tipping point for happier meals: Column

Dairy Queen restaurant in downtown Moorhead, Minn., first opened in 1949. (Photo: Dave Kolpack, AP)

Come September 1st, when you walk into a Dairy Queen, you’ll find that soda is no longer the default option for the children’s meal, which will now come with milk or water. Chances are you haven’t heard about the change, and that’s cause for celebration — a sign that we are fast approaching a tipping point where fast food joints are expected to serve healthy food as a matter of course.

The fact that such changes no longer make big news marks a major — and welcome — shift. Consider that in 2012, Subway was the only chain that where sugary drinks did not come standard with kids’ meals. At the time, an analysis of nearly 3,500 kid’s chain restaurant meal options by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that 97% of them did not meet the CSPI’s nutritional standard for four to eight year olds.

Real men don't eat meat: Column

Since then, with heightened awareness that sugary drinks are a top culprit in childhood obesity, diabetes and dental decay, fast food heavy hitters have jumped on the bandwagon, swapping sugary drinks for low-fat milk or juice. Among them: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle, Arby's, Panera Bread, and Burger King.

It’s important to appreciate how significant such changes are. Childhood is when we figure out what a meal should look like. What comes with that Happy Meal helps set those expectations. What children eat will shape their tastes for decades to come.

To be sure, soda is still available for purchase in these restaurants, and sugary drinks are still the default beverage for standard adult meals. But the changes in kids’ meals send a strong signal that fast food culture is evolving.

Success shouldn't depend on government favors: Column

While many call for more sweeping changes to fast food restaurants on their offerings and marketing tactics, for now I’ve joined their cheering squad, and I am genuinely glad to see that early results seem to show that healthy children’s meals can turn a healthy profit. To be sustainable, a health-forward menu must support a business model.

“In the beginning, it seemed silly then it became controversial, then it became progressive, then it became obvious.” This quip, often credited to Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, captures the process of how people perceive game changing ideas. We’ve seen this with smoking, with seat belts, and happily we are well on our way to seeing it with chain restaurants and sugary drinks. There may well come a time when soda with meals seems just plain strange.

Dr. Y. Claire Wang is an associate professor and co-director of the Obesity Prevention Initiative at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and an OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow.

In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the Opinion front page.

Restaurant kids meals rarely healthful

Apple slices with fast food? Subway makes that work in its kids meals. (Bigstock)

Kids’ menus at most chain restaurants have too many calories, too much salt or fat, and often not a hint of vegetables or fruit, according to a new study.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which studies food and health, looked at almost 3,500 meal combinations from 34 restaurants. They failed to meet nutritional standards 97 percent of the time.

That was a small improvement over 2008, when such meals failed to meet standards 99 percent of the time.

Every children’s meal offered at popular chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, McDonald’s and Popeyes fell short of standards adopted by the center from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional recommendations.

“Most chains seem stuck in a time warp, serving up the same old meals based on chicken nuggets, burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries and soda,” said Margo Wootan, CSPI nutrition policy director. “It’s like the restaurant industry didn’t get the memo that there’s a childhood obesity crisis.”

Among the meals singled out was Applebee’s grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread, fries and 2 percent chocolate milk, which has 1,210 calories, 62 grams of fat and 2,340 milligrams of salt. The combo meal had nearly three times as many calories as what CSPI suggests for 4- to 8-year-olds.

At Ruby Tuesday, the macaroni and cheese, white cheddar mashed potatoes and fruit punch combo has 870 calories, 46 grams of fat and 1,700 milligrams of salt, Wootan said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that children eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt each day to avoid high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

Eating high-calorie meals also can cause kids to become overweight. Being overweight as a child leaves a person vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes and a shortened life span. About one-third of American children are considered overweight, according to USDA.

Subway restaurants’ Fresh Fit for Kids meal combos are exceptions to the typical salty, fatty choices, the study said.

Subway serves apple slices with its kid-size sandwiches and offers low-fat milk or bottled water instead of soda. All eight of its children’s meals met CSPI’s nutritional guidelines.

A few other restaurants have begun to offer side dishes other than french fries. Every child’s meal at LongHorn Steakhouse comes with fruit or a vegetable.

“More chains are adding fruit, like apple slices, to their menus, but practically every chain could be adding more vegetable and whole-grain options,” said Ameena Batada, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Labeling can also be helpful. The report mentioned two studies that indicated customers who are given menus that show how many calories are in each meal sometimes make more healthful choices.

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