The chain restaurants have once again done their part to threaten the health and nutrition of children around the country. This time it is Friendly’s that violates attempts to curb the overwhelming increase in childhood obesity. A chain whose motto “where ice cream makes the meal” is enough to make nutritionists everywhere cringe, Friendly’s has been serving high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat entrees, desserts, and drinks for 75 years. One only need to trace its history to the Great Depression to appreciate that in a time of want and undernourishment, it promoted a menu of excess and indulgence. No wonder it appealed to the masses.
Today, however, the foods it purports are even more in violation of its own mission to provide “quality” food due to the years of research about nutrition that have come to light over its lifetime, as well as expanding menu offerings and portion sizes. Its new “Mac & Cheese Quesadilla” is featured on the kids menu and contains over half the total calories an adult should consume in an entire day (1,020 calories and 49 grams of fat)! But, if we follow Friendly’s own recommendation that every meal should end with an “unbelievable homemade ice cream in limitless sizes, shapes, and flavors,” the quesadilla is not the crowning glory of a kids meal. Instead, children are encouraged to pair it with one such “unbelievable” ice cream dessert, such as a “Monster Mash Sundae” (430 calories, 22 grams of fat) or a “Friend-Z Peanut Butter Cup” (860 calories, 49 grams of fat). But that is not all. On the website, Friendly’s refers to the different meal components as ‘levels,’ telling kids to: 1) Pick Your Drink, 2) Pick Your Entrée, and 3) Pick Your Dessert. So, even though with just a meal and dessert a child has already consumed an adult’s portion of calories for an entire day, they are still encouraged to have a drink. For a drink, they could choose between four different flavors of milk (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or even coffee!), all of which contain about 300-350 calories and three times the amount of sugar in plain 1% milk. With these additional calories, a child has already surpassed one day’s worth of calories in one single meal and is working on a second.
It is perhaps ironic that Friendly’s lists allergen and meat preparation information on the same page as the menu, but reserves more detailed nutritional information for display only on their website. However, if one were motivated to search the Friendly’s site, you would also find online “kid-friendly” games that feature an “Adventure Sundae Machine,” a game that lets you “Repair the Blue Soda Machine,” and an online “Friend-Z Maker.” In many games you are told to watch out for the “un-funs” who are robots that will attempt to stop you from achieving your goal of creating virtual calorie-laden, sugar-filled diabetic disasters.
If this is what a restaurant chain “built around the family” is encouraging people to consume, how can this country truly prevent childhood obesity? How can we compete against restaurants that offer more calories in a single meal than a child should eat for an entire day? Until Friendly’s changes its offerings to meet a healthier standard, I will deem it an unfriendly place to eat. Despite its attempts to convince parents and kids everywhere, this is not a kid-friendly restaurant.