Burger King goes healthy?

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On Wednesday, Burger King announced that it is releasing three new kids' meals that are healthier than its old child-oriented offerings. The new choices all have fewer than 560 calories, yet still hover around 600 milligrams of sodium. Even so, with menu options like apple sticks that are cut to look like fries, bite-sized burgers, and low fat caramel dipping sauce, the new meals are a major step up from their predecessors.

In many ways, this is a shocking shift for the burger brand. For several fast food restaurants, the move toward healthier choices began a few years ago, when Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me illustrated the amazing effects of a fast-food-only diet. All of a sudden, Wendy's, McDonald's, Subway and Taco Bell were falling over themselves in an attempt to offer the widest selection of healthy (or at least healthy tasting) food. Menu boards that had once been dominated by greasy burgers and oily fries sported salads and fresh fruit, yogurt parfaits and grilled chicken. It was as if the health food fairy had decided to go to war against fast food.

The final holdout was Burger King. While the grilled burger behemoth made a nod toward new, healthier options, it put most of its energy into maxing out the fat, calories and sodium in its food choices. Suddenly, the King was offering burgers like the "Quad Stacker," a monster that sported four meat patties, four slices of cheese, and eight slices of bacon. At 1,000 calories, it was somewhere around half the recommended daily allowance for an adult. On the other hand, the 68 grams of fat were 3 grams over the RDA, and the 30 grams of saturated fat were 10 grams more than suggested.

For those who couldn't wait until lunch to power up on fat and carbs, the Meat'Normous Omelet Sandwich offered three slices of bacon, two slices of ham, two sausage patties, two eggs, and two slices of cheese. By comparison with the Quad, this was practically health food: it offered only 770 calories and 47 grams of fat.

While the Meat'Normous Omelet is off the menu, the Quad Stacker remains in many markets. Although Burger King hasn't introduced any other major heart bombs in the past couple of years, it continues to emphasize its burgers, and the company's new "Whopper Bar" venues are designed to wheeze fresh life into the burger business by offering a customized burger experience that
is sort of like a salad bar on steroids. Moreover, the newfound burger creativity has influenced the restaurants, which are offering choices like the "Angry Whopper" and the "Loaded Steakhouse Burger."

In the midst of this, Burger King's healthy new kid's meals seems an odd choice. On the other hand, for many families, children are the primary impetus for visiting fast food joints. With popular, healthier options like pasta and pizza on the horizon, many parents are loath to bring their children to visit the King. It remains to be seen, however, if apple fries and low-fat caramel are enticing enough to bring families into a restaurant that has made itself famously fattening.

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