Fried Food
The 2013 White House Kids State Dinner is supposedly centered on healthy and affordable recipes to curb childhood obesity. Children from fifty states, three territories, and the District of Columbia sent in recipes for a chance to dine and showcase their dish at The White House with the First Lady.

It’s a nice gesture for some aspiring gourmands. But are these recipes really any healthier than a trip through the drive-thru?

The “Happy Meal,” the gold standard of childhood cuisine, checks in at 470 calories with a hamburger, French fries, apple slices, and a small bottle of milk. Individually, the hamburger and fries are 250 and 100 calories respectively. Activists have scapegoated fast food – such as Happy Meals — as the culprit in the childhood obesity “epidemic;” however, fast food calories are no more fattening than any other calories. And based on the calorie counts provided with the recipes, the Kids State Dinner choices can exceed the Golden Arches’ contribution. (It reminds us of the recipes of New York Times culinary scold Mark Bittman, whose burger tops the Big Mac in calorie count.)

At the Kids State Dinner, children may choose from the selection of pizzas, muffins, burgers, pastas, and taco salads with calorie contents ranging from insatiably low to quite filling indeed. They may be green and pretty, but 78% of the recipes have 250 calories or more with comparable size and fat content to a junior hamburger. Ten of the recipes have over 500 calories, making them greater calorie contributors than an entire happy meal with fries!

The meals prepared by the kids look delicious, but let’s not confuse all of them for healthy alternatives to a drive-thru. For example, the “Slam Dunk Veggie Burger” is 356 calories, 100 calories more than the basic hamburger. Additionally, the “Hidden Veggie Lasagna” has 100 more calories, twice as many carbohydrates, and more fat than a junior hamburger. Either way you look at it, these options just aren’t any less fattening for children than a simple trip through a drive-thru and some time outside.

Encouraging children to eat healthier is one thing, but encouraging children to eat food that only looks healthier is another. The cure for childhood obesity is simple: eat less or the same and get off the couch more. Children should be outside playing rather than watching television all day. Without exercise, 512 calories of the “Picky-Eater Pita Pizza Pockets” does little to make a child healthier.