KFC launches bucket for children amid criticism

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KFC’s new Li’l Bucket Kids Meals are launching at the chicken chain nationwide on the same day that consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest said nearly all kids meals “flunk nutrition.”

KFC’s new packaging involves a smaller, colorful bucket covered with interactive games. Kids can choose from among several varieties of chicken, sides and drinks. Each container comes with a pouch of GoGo squeeZ applesauce.

The Li’l Bucket costs $3.99 plus tax. At its most healthful — a grilled drumstick, green beans, CapriSun Roarin’ Water and the no-spoon applesauce — the bucket carries 210 calories, 4 grams of fat and 565 milligrams of sodium.

But kids also have other options, which include extra crispy chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, and milk.

KFC is based in Louisville, Ky., and is owned by Taco Bell parent Yum Brands. The chicken chain has more than 17,000 outlets in 115 countries.

Just as the Li’l Bucket was being rolled out across the country, the Center for Science in the Public Interest was releasing a report blasting the 97 percent of kids meals it accuses of not meeting nutritional standards.

Of nearly 3,500 meal possibilities, the CSPI said the vast majority are crammed with fried chicken fingers, burgers, french fries and sugary drinks — inappropriate options for 4- to 8-year-olds. The group says kids meals should stay under 430 calories, contain at least half a serving of fruit or vegetables and exclude super-sweet drinks.

Only sandwich chain Subway, with its Fresh Fit for Kids meals offering apple slices and low-fat milk or bottled water, seems to have emerged on the CSPI’s good side.

At 19 chains, including McDonald’s, Chipotle and Hardee’s, no combination of children’s options met the CSPI’s specifications, the group said.

Another organization, the Center for Consumer Freedom, promptly responded to the CSPI report, accusing it of playing a “blame game.”

“When it comes to childhood obesity, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is missing the forest for the trees,” J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, said in a statement. “Childhood obesity is a result of a myriad of factors, not just restaurant offerings. Regulating kids’ menus to only offer quinoa salads isn’t going to make any measurable weight difference in America’s youth.”

Kids meals are on the decline, according to research company the NPD Group. As of 2011, traffic into eateries from families with kids is flat after several years of declines. Health concerns are also a factor.

“In addition to the economic factor, kids have become more sophisticated, and just like adults, they want to try new things, new foods,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said in a statement. “Kids have a wider variety of foods and flavors available to them today than they have in the past.”