Jerry Davich. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 16, 2013 6:32AM
The fresh-faced McDonald’s drive-through worker paused to contemplate my seemingly unusual question.
“Hmmm,” she thought to herself. “What’s the healthiest menu items we have?”
“Well, we have wraps and salads and diet Coke,” she said proudly.
I asked how popular those items are to most drive-through customers.
“They’re kind of popular, but mostly we sell a lot of burgers, Big Macs, fries, and McNuggets,” she replied. “But those people do get diet Cokes.”
The reason for my questions stemmed from a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, stating how fast food restaurants have made “disappointing” progress towards creating healthier menus.
As a debit card-carrying fast food junkie I can attest that despite all their heavily-heralded marketing efforts, most of these companies’ menu items are about as healthy as a heart attack. This includes McDonald’s latest menu change: Adding three new Quarter Pounders.
The study’s researchers conducted a nutritional analysis of several fast food joint menus from 1997 to 2010. These restaurants included McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, and Dairy Queen.
All of these places, except Jack in the Box, were at one time in my regular lunch orbit, though these days not so much. I don’t think I got healthier. I just got bored.
Since 1997, more salads, fruits and vegetables have been offered at these places, the study showed. But — and like many of their customers, this is a big but — most fast food chains also increased the number of unhealthy menu options. If you do the math, as researchers did for us, the overall nutritional quality of their menus remained relatively the same.
The study’s results were quantified by using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Healthy Eating Index,” a 100-point scale to assess foods’ nutritional quality. Fast food chains improved their overall scores by only three points since 1997.
The study’s authors found the results “discouraging.”
“I was surprised. I expected to see greater improvements,” one lead investigator told FoxNews.com.
Are you surprised, too? I am not.
Ronald McDonald, The Colonel, and Wendy have been dealing unhealthy food for decades, like a fat-cat dope-pusher at every street corner. And we’re as happy as a kid’s meal to line up in droves to get our fast food fix. Hell, for many of us, it’s part of our childhood memories.
Moms not lovin’ it
A national coalition of mothers has joined forces to put pressure on McDonald’s to curb its marketing tactics against kids.
Beginning this past Sunday, on Mother’s Day, the moms have flooded the Internet, blogosphere, and social media to promote the #MomsNotLovinIt campaign, which boasts a telling graphic of a mother and her children facing a tsunami of McDonald’s promotions.
“For decades, McDonald’s has profited richly at a staggering cost to our children’s health,” the website states. “Its strategy has been to undermine the efforts of parents (or, as McDonald’s calls them, ‘gatekeepers’) to feed kids healthfully.”
“Now, parents around the country are saying “we’re not lovin’ it” this Mother’s Day.”
“McDonald’s spends significant time and money building its brand through social media. Sharing this graphic with your networks will get the attention of McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and other McDonald’s executives.”
Such grassroots efforts have helped force McDonald’s and other fast food chains to make healthier changes to its Happy Meals while also cutting back on clownish marketing techniques. But it is certainly an uphill battle for parents, who must deal with marketing images of superheroes, cartoon characters and big-name animated movies.
If you are one of those fast food snobs who looks down on Big Macs, Whoppers and other finger-lickin’ good food, don’t be too shocked over another new study involving Subway. The fast food chain bills itself as the “fresh and healthy” alternative.
Not so fast, Jared.
According to an Associated Press story, scientists at UCLA sent a group of nearly 100 adolescents, ages 12 to 21, to eat at McDonald’s and Subway restaurants. They then collected their food receipts to see exactly what they ordered and each item’s nutritional value.
The McDonald’s meals averaged 1,038 calories, and the Subway meals averaged 955 calories. Not too much of a difference really.
“We found there was no statistically significant difference between the two restaurants, and that participants ate too many calories at both,” public health scholar Dr. Lenard Lesser, who led the study, said in a statement.
And that pretty much sums up our problem, I say. It’s not only the fast food chains, their clever marketing campaigns and their so-called “healthier” menus. The problem is us, myself included.
We’re the fast food junkies who allow the corporate dealers to get rich off of our addictions.
‘Off the eaten path’
On Monday, I began a new column feature called “Off the eaten path,” by noting a Northwest Indiana restaurant that may not be on your radar or in your orbit. I asked for your suggestions and you didn’t disappoint.
Here is a sampling of your recommendations and, for the record, no fast food chains were suggested.
Chris R. suggests Grindhouse Cafe on Broad Street in Griffith, which is “geared toward a younger crowd but the quality of food will please a diner of any age.”
Terry R. said Jimmy’s Diner in Valparaiso: “Best breakfasts and service. We get treated like family there. Biscuits and gravy are to die for.”
Teresa C. said the Round The Clock restaurant in Chesterton, which has “great food and terrific service.”
Patrick P. said Valley Kitchen & Bar in Valparaiso, which offers a “farm to table” style: “Everything seems to be locally sourced except the wine.”
Georgia G. recommends Mishkenut Mediterranean in Munster.
Mark R. said The Cavalier Inn in Hammond, which offers duck blood soup, fresh pierogies, and “a bacon cheeseburger that two men can’t finish.”
Jim R. suggests Gentleman Tom’s Hideaway in DeMotte, which offers “as good a steak as anywhere in Chicago.”
I also should note that the Country Lounge on Ridge Road in Hobart is reopening this weekend, I’m told. Welcome back, and I look forward to returning there.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.