Fast Food Chains Are Slowly Getting Healthier: Yum?

drive throughJuly 31, 2009 With Health magazine coming forth heralding “Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants,” and even Center for Science in the Public Interest giving kudos to KFC for their grilled chicken switcheroos at the drive-throughs, I thought I’d take my trusty Fast Food iphone app out for a ‘working late’ grab-n-go spin, since REAL food spots were already closed.

I wheeled in to KFC to see ‘how low you can go’ in caloric content to keep arteries clear and still satisfy a mashed potato craving…And overall was pretty pleased at the options glancing at the mobile cheat sheet. Big booboo?  No sodium callouts on the dang iphone thingie. Bah. Get thee to an update, app people.

As I wrote in this piece, “Kidney stones in Kindergarten,” kids are getting over three times the amount of salt in their dietary intake, so it’s not something you want to ignore on a nutritional breakdown…Any list or chart  without it has gaping holes, as CSPI details here in this salty 44pp report “Heart Attack Entrees & Side Orders of Stroke.”

kfc grill chix

I usually snag Subway for fast food, but wanted a ‘drive through only’ to simulate the way close to 70% of Americans evidently eat at least once a week (great article in Grist on converting eco-inefficiency of engine idling into a potential energy source!)

Besides, road trips are known for ‘grab-n-go’ realities in many a family, so it’s silly to remain in a Yogi-Bear picnic basket mindset when so many people are doing otherwise…

Overall, KFC was a pleasant surprise for:

a.) Their promotion of healthier fare (all too often chains give it a cursory ‘have to ask for it’ deep dive)

b.) Their site’s nutritional details and disclosure

c.) A cool ‘calculator’ in tray/cafeteria style to evaluate your exact order based on what you put into the mix, plus a DV callout if you ‘dare to compare’ your choice overall. (drawback? Had to visit three separate sites, rather than one KFC hub for this data)

d.) Pretty good tasting flavors…I ordered the grilled chicken salad, corn on the cob, and side of mash-n-gravy…(not exactly a ‘kids meal’ I realize…but again, the point is to see if healthy was relative)

salt-shakerI figured since even CSPI gave KFC grilled a thumbs up in this month’s Nutrition Action Newsletter (where they list ‘Right Stuff’’ vs. ‘Food Porn’) I had to try it myself, especially considering CSPI was suing their hide just a few years ago for KFC’s transfat formulation calling it ‘Kentucky Fried Coronary’ and other pithy squawks.

KFC was also transparent about listing the toxicity of the dressings offered in a packet (more cals than the salad itself) so you can make the choice to do your own thing/add your own and still get a quick dinner on the go without too many eye-popping surprises…


It still nailed me with a whopping sodium count that reinforces my inclination to stay away and eat real food.

Still, to give credit where credit is due, I’d say “A for effort” especially in comparison with this article  Healthy Salads That Make You Fat detailing the worst salads in America. Plus, KFC ditched kids’ meal toys long ago for a scholars program and ‘laptop meal’ instead, and recovered from their freebie debacle that offered ‘raincheck coupons’ due to Oprah overwhelm, by making good on items that weren’t delivered, satisfying even the Consumerist customers.

What a difference a few years makes, eh?

kfc grilled

CSPI even crowed that KFC’s grilled fare is  not just better than fried chicken, it’s “better than some chains UNfried chicken” citing Boston Market’s ounce for ounce comparison  yielding 25% more sodium in their breast/wing combo. (Note: CSPI legal beagles are filing a class action lawsuit against Denny’s for unsafe sodium levels, so clearly this is a thumbs up for Yum in many ways!)

Personally, I give KFC extra applause for NOT subjecting kids to plastic toys or crude breast and thigh jokes (which you KNOW would’ve been a ‘given’ if the Burger King bunch had the account judging by their  (track record)

(I still don’t know why franchisees don’t let out a massive rebel yell to ‘knock it off’ with those toxic ads since it’s hurting their own business with boycotts and such, but then, multinationals have lots of strong arm power and clout I suppose…Sigh.)

Any other fast food surprises at the drive through window besides the killer DV in a dish one-stop depletion of your entire day’s intake? (which is not much of a surprise)


Believe it or not, it’s ANOTHER healthy hallelujah found at Yum brands (KFC’s parent co) via Taco Bell’s new Fresco menu makeover. (Tag is “less fat, more taste” but again, check out the sodium, folks)

Maybe Taco Bell is boosting good will after the reverb from their freakin’ “fourth meal at midnight” promo that teens needed like a hole in the pocket.

Anyway, they’re marketing Fresco front and center with big posters and Chipotle style ‘fresh’ messaging…(which, btw, is making a highly visible stand by backing the movie Food Inc. positioning Chipotle as the ‘healthier’ fast food option in ‘whole food’ style)

Any others on the radar, road warriors?

drive thruWhat have YOU found on your summer vacation road trips that have raised eyebrows and shoulder shrugs in the ‘hmn, I didn’t know they even offered that’ category of drive-throughs?

Does anyone want to ‘weigh in’ on the Time magazine article about the 9 Kid Foods to Avoid?

Or Time’s article on fast food, menu labeling and the 1000 calorie condundrum? Personally, I like the transparency of menu labeling as a classic deterrent so am hoping the public health posse in the Senate passes the ‘need to know’ so we can all CHOOSE accordingly.

Lots of controversy on menu labeling from many camps who feel it’s oxymoronic to explain that junk food is junky, not me. I wanna know.

kfc grilled meal

That way you can find semi-palatable edibles in a pinch and eat in moderation without being anal retentive about what you consume…

Besides, the more pressure put on industry to come up with viable, yummier solutions, the more consumer selections and competition to drive a healthier agenda that puts public health ahead of profiteering, or at least equalizes the incentives with market demand.

Case in point…the mass makeovers of menus in chains like Starbucks, where S.Y.’s nutrition correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield, RD shares her own Starbucks healthier eating picks (I use that dip tip all the time)…(Rebecca’s video here)

Granted, that’s not exactly ‘drive-through’ fare…

baby carseatI’m looking for useful ‘on the go-baby in the car seat’ realities for finding healthier fare…

You know…when a toddler’s fast asleep, siblings are hungry and you don’t want to stop the car kinda thing…

Thoughts? Tips?

Recommendations? Any summer surprises from those cross country trips you can share?

Serve ’em up!



  1. Hi Amy

    Fast food chains are getting healthier, very slowly. Had a muffin at McD’s yesterday and noted a Nutrition chart on the back of the placemat, not way up on the wall.
    There is such a long ways to go and the profit that corporations need will make bad food marketing so difficult to fix. I am continually amazed at the freedom given to business to produce and market products that are harmful to us. The forces behind this bad commerce are so huge. The marketing of unhealthy foods to kids is about the worse example, unethical and incomprehensible.

    People are getting more interested and the voices for change are out there. Perhaps the internet can provide the medium for making a positive lasting movement for the better.

    Your efforts at Shaping Youth are so admirable and helpful, you should be on every family’s reading list. Thanks so much!
    .-= Grampa Ken´s last blog ..Materialism and Happiness =-.

  2. Very kind of you, Ken…but sometimes I feel like ‘preaching to the choir’ and it’s WAY too slow to reach new faces…like our screenings last night of Consuming Kids…These folks totally ‘get it’ and have value-shifted accordingly, championing change and spreading the word looking for MORE resources to do so…but my target is the ‘masses’ (e.g. particularly the grassroots/Title One schools with dual working parents that barely have time to sit down and are tossing pouches, fast food and pre-processed slop kids way…

    As you know, not much money in ‘counter-marketing corporations’ so I’m having to glean funding from indie sources, which is way too slow…Working on a new rev gen game plan though to jumpstart this start up in a much more sustainable manner…Stay tuned!

    Thanks for the joy juice…a dose of it keeps this ol’ passionista goin’! 😉

  3. I really like your blog and i respect your work. I’ll be a frequent visitor.

  4. Just read this in the ‘eat this not that’ newsletter and all I have to say is ‘eewwwwwwww!’ on the ‘double down’

    “We’ve been pleased to see a few encouraging changes on KFC’s notoriously unhealthy menu in recent years – but it looks like any positive nutritional goals have been tossed aside to make room for a new, fatty, greasy sandwich: the Double Down.

    The new sandwich is only available in select test markets right now (watch out, Providence and Omaha!), but KFC reps are saying it has “exceeded expectations,” according to a story in yesterday’s New York Daily News.

    Men’s Health nutrition editor and Eat This, Not That! coauthor Matt Goulding was quoted in the story:

    “KFC recently took the word ‘fried’ out of its name and had been showing some good signs of turning around its bad image,” Goulding says. “So it’s interesting that they would come out with this explosive weapon of mass destruction.”

    UGH!!! I even have some family in R.I…so heads up y’all!

    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Taylor Swift, Kim Clijsters and President Obama: Their Stolen Moments =-.

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