TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s A lot of Junk Food at the School Nutrition Conference

This year's annual conference run by the School Nutrition Association is not without politics

The 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association is finishing up today in Boston, and it’s not go on without controversy.

Here’s some backstory: When the Obama administration revamped the school lunch requirements, they received a lot of praise and counted among their champions the School Nutrition Association. But now, the group, which is a national organization of school nutrition professionals, is heading up a lobbying campaign to let schools opt out of the requirements saying they are too restrictive and costly. (You can read in detail what the group is pushing for here.)

Many experts in the school-nutrition world are surprised by the stance the SNA has taken and some of its members have resigned, voicing criticism of SNA for accepting sponsorship money from food companies.

At the same time, Congress is considering legislation to delay by one year some of the school-lunch regulations, as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

Given the ongoing debate about school nutrition, it shouldn’t be surprising that this year’s convention—which brings together 6,000 school nutrition professionals and industry members—has been mired in politics. As Politico reported: Sam Kass, the Executive Director of Let’s Move! was even turned down when he asked to speak at the conference this year.

Though the conference has long allowed food companies to be involved, their new position on the school lunch standards have some nutrition groups and experts skeptical. And that makes the presence of fast food and junk food at the event all the more surprising.

Here are some tweets from public health lawyer Michele Simon:

To be sure, there were certainly booths with healthy food–even a great vending machine idea like this one:

So while the conference highlighted ways to get kids to eat more healthy food, it’s hard to take seriously when Cheetos and pizza are so heavily marketed.

TIME Fast Food

11 Worst Fast Food Restaurants in America

Taco Bell Beef
Doritos Locos tacos and a fountain drink are arranged for a photograph at a Taco Bell restaurant in Redondo Beach, Cali. on Oct. 4, 2013. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

This post is in partnership with The Fiscal Times. The article below was originally published on The Fiscal Times.

Whether they like pizza, hamburgers, chicken or sandwiches, Americans want more than just cheap meals when they eat out at fast food restaurants. The quality and freshness of the food, as well as the quality of the service, have become top priorities when choosing a spot to grab a quick bite, as shown by Consumer Reports’ most recent ranking of our nation’s fast food restaurants.

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 32,000 readers who ate more than 96,000 meals at 65 chains. The magazine found that the less ubiquitous fast food restaurants and the regional ones were the most popular with diners.

Those who were surveyed had to look at five criteria to rank each chain: food quality and freshness, value, politeness, speed of service, and cleanliness of the dining area. Based on these criteria, they then had to come up with a grade out of 100.

The top loser: Sbarro, which specializes in New York-style pizza. The chain has been doing so badly it closed more than 150 locations in North America in February and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a month later.

Other well-known names that made the list of the worst fast food restaurants include McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

11) Panda Express

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

The only Asian fast food chain on this list, Panda Express allegedly offers gourmet Chinese cuisine, but the quality and freshness of its food is only so-so and its dishes are too pricey, according to the survey. Meanwhile, the quality of its service fared relatively well.

10) Taco Bell

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

The best-known Mexican fast food chain in the country, Taco Bell also ranked as the worst Mexican fast food chain in America, receiving particularly bad grades for its mediocre food quality and freshness. It recently entered the breakfast market, going head to head with McDonald’s.

9) Little Caesars

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100
Pizza restaurant Little Caesars, which was started in Michigan more than 50 years ago, ranked especially low on the quality and freshness of its food, despite advertising its fresh-quality ingredients.

8) Domino’s

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

Another global pizza chain ended on the worst fast food restaurant list. Domino’s fared poorly on all criteria including the quality of the food, the value of its food, the speed of its service and the cleanliness of its dining areas – but its wait staff received a relatively high mark for politeness.

7) Pizza Hut

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 73/100

One of the most famous pizza chains in the world, Pizza Hut was started by two brothers more than 55 years ago in Kansas. Now part of Yum! Brands, it has about 6,000 restaurants in the U.S.

6) CiCi’s Pizza

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 72/100

CiCi’s Pizza, which launched in the 1980s in Plano, Texas, now has about 500 restaurants in 34 states. Although the chain received bad grades for the quality of its food and the cleanliness of its restaurants, it did okay with the speed of its service and politeness of its waiting staff.

5) Burger King

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 71/100

Another burger giant chain fared poorly in the rankings, with mediocre food quality and freshness and bad value for its food. Burger King, which debuted a Gay Pride Whopper this week, has about 13,000 franchised restaurants.

4) McDonald’s

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 71/100
Every minute, McDonald’s sells Americans nearly 1,500 burgers, which it touts as being 100 percent USDA-inspected beef, free of preservatives, fillers, extenders and so-called pink slime. But none of that prevent Consumer Reports’ readers from rating its food quality and freshness as one of the worst.

3) Church’s Chicken

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 71/100
Church’s Chicken, also established in the 1950s, sells fried chicken, fries, biscuits and jalapenos. The chain, known as Texas Chicken outside the U.S., has more than 1,600 locations worldwide.

2) KFC

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 69/100
KFC’s food quality and freshness, its value, and the cleanliness of its dining area all got bad reviews. The chain, which has famously sold its fried chicken in buckets since the 1950s, has restaurants throughout the country.

1) Sbarro

Consumer Reports’ Grade: 65/100
Sbarro, which specializes in New York-style pizza, placed especially low in this year’s list because of its poor food quality and lack of freshness. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year – the second time it’s done so in about three years.

 

TIME Fast Food

10 Best Fast Food Restaurants in America

In-N-Out Burger As The Company Is Valued At Near $2 Billion
In-N-Out Burger's signature Double-Double cheeseburger and french fries. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

There are a few surprises on the Consumer Reports’ list this year of the best fast food restaurants in America – and a few names that are not that well known nationally.

The bottom line is that whether we’re aiming to eat pizza, burgers, chicken or grilled sandwiches, Americans want a lot more than just food on the cheap when we eat out. We care about the quality and freshness of our food; we care about the quality of the service we receive. These priorities when choosing a destination for grabbing a quick bite emerged in Consumer Reports most recent ranking of our nation’s fast food restaurants.

The magazine asked more than 32,000 readers – who ate more than 96,000 meals at 65 chains – what they thought. The less ubiquitous fast food restaurants and the regional ones were the most popular with diners.

Respondents looked at five criteria to rank each chain: food quality and freshness, value, politeness, speed of service, and cleanliness of the dining area. Based on these criteria, they had to come up with a grade out of 100.

The top winner: In-N-Out Burger, which has a cult following of fans from across the country. Its restaurants are only available in a handful of states, mostly on the West Coast, which means that for many Americans, vacationing in California often includes paying a visit to an In-N-Out Burger restaurant.

Other names that made the list of the best fast food restaurants include Chick-fil-A and Potbelly Sandwich Shop, but most of the other chains on the list aren’t that well known.

“You’ll find many fine national (defined as operating in six or more states) and regional restaurants,” noted Consumer Reports.

10) Culver’s

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Started in Wisconsin in the 1980s, Culver’s, which offers fresh frozen custard and burgers, is still predominantly in the Midwest but has also expanded into Texas. Culver’s also features its own brand of root beer. Politeness of its staffs and dining-area cleanliness were among its highlights.

9) Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Rubio’s, which was founded in California in the 1980s, offers Mexican food using fresh sustainable seafood with an emphasis on tacos. The company operates 190 locations in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Nevada. Noteworthy for Rubio’s: quality of the food, its staffs’ politeness, and cleanliness of dining areas.

8) Potbelly Sandwich Shop

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Another fast food chain that specializes in subs, Potbelly, which was founded in Chicago in 1977, has locations in 23 states. It often has local musicians performing live at a Potbelly Sandwich Shop – whose staffs’ politeness helped it earn this spot on the list.

7) Firehouse Subs

Consumer Reports Grade: 84/100

Founded just 20 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, by former firefighters, Firehouse Subs specializes in hot subs and also offers subs and salads under 500 calories. It has more than 700 restaurants in 36 states. It earned this spot on the list because of its staffs’ politeness and the cleanliness of its dining areas.

6) Chick-Fil-A

Consumer Reports Grade: 85/100

Chick-fil-A, which is headquartered in Atlanta and specializes in chicken sandwiches, made the news three years ago because of its opposition to same-sex marriage legislation – but it also made the Consumer Reports list of the best fast food restaurants in America for the quality of its food and of its service.

5) Jason’s Deli

Consumer Reports Grade: 85/100

Founded in Texas in 1976, Jason’s Deli offers a deli-style menu with sandwiches, salads and soups. It boasts 240 locations across 28 states. In the last decade, the company has eliminated trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and MSG from all of its food. It rated highly for its food quality, politeness of its staff, and the cleanliness of its dining areas.

4) The Habit Burger Grill

Consumer Reports Grade: 86/100

The Habit Burger Grill was started in California in 1969 and like In-N-Out Burger, it has remained on the small side, with only 100 locations in California, Arizona and Utah. Food quality, politeness of staff, and cleanliness all rated high for this restaurant.

3) Portillo’s Hot Dogs

Consumer Reports Grade: 87/100

Portillo’s specializes in Chicago-style hot dogs and sandwiches. It has less than 50 locations, mostly in the Chicago area, as well as in Arizona and California, but you can order some items online. Like the other winners on this list, its food quality, politeness of staff, and cleanliness of its dining areas stood out.

2) Papa Murphy’s Take N’Bake Pizza

Consumer Reports Grade: 88/100

Papa Murphy’s, which ranks as the best pizza fast food restaurant in the country in this list, is actually a take-and-bake pizzeria. Customers order their pizza in the store but take it home to bake, reducing the restaurant’s costs significantly. The company, which has more than 1,400 locations in the U.S., went public in May, and is noted for the quality of its food, politeness of its staff, and the speed of its service.

1) In-N-Out Burger

Consumer Reports Grade: 88/100

One of the cruelest April Fool’s jokes to New Yorkers a few years ago was the announcement by an anonymous prankster that In-N-Out Burger was going to open a location in the Big Apple. The top burger chain in the country, however, actually wants to remain small and confines itself to the West Coast. The quality of its food helped it win this highly coveted spot.

 

TIME Fast Food

Pizza Hut Is Now Selling Giant Cookies Cut Like Pizza

Pizza Hut's Cookie Pizza
Pizza Hut's Cookie Pizza Pizza Hut/Yum!

A new dessert item

Pizza Hut’s menu just got a little sweeter. The pizza chain will begin delivering giant chocolate chip cookies sliced up like their famous pies on Monday.

Pizza Hut teased the new menu item on its Facebook page Sunday night.

The cookie, formally named the “Ultimate Hershey’s Chocolate Chip Cookie” will cost $4.99 with a pizza and $5.99 alone, the Chicago Tribune reports, and serves about 8. On Wenesday, 10% of each cookie’s sale will go to the World Food Programme during a nation-wide “bake sale.”

“Millennials tell us it’s what they want,” Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut, told USA Today of the new pizza cookie. “They like to cap off a great pizza with a great dessert.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Nearly 60% Of People Use Nutrition Info on Menus

a fast food tray full of hamburgers
A CDC report shows nearly 6 out of 10 people use menu labels Sian Kennedy

New report suggests people are paying attention to menu labels

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows 57% of U.S. adults over 18 use menu labeling information like calorie counts to make their orders.

The researchers looked at surveys from 17 states and found that women were more likely to use menu labels, and that labeling helps customers pick lower-calorie options. A 2010 federal law requires restaurants that have at least 20 locations to list calorie information on their menus (though regulations to implement the law have still not been finalized).

The new study is important, because it shows that Americans actually do care about menu labels, though perhaps only by a slight majority. Several earlier studies have shown the opposite. For instance, a 2012 study concluded calorie listings would have little impact on the obesity epidemic. Another 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined the receipts of 1,100 McDonald’s diners. Some of the participants were given calorie information as well as education about how many calories are recommended for men and women and others were given no information. Both groups ate more than the recommended amount of calories, and there were no differences between the groups, suggesting people underestimate what they’re eating, even with calorie numbers.

All of which means that while it’s great consumers are looking at calorie counts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are acting on the information.

There are a few criticisms of nutrition labeling in fast food restaurants. Two Johns Hopkins obesity experts wrote an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine last year arguing that without any context, people have no idea how many calories they should be eating, making the data essentially meaningless. Some researchers have suggested that health authorities use other measurements, like how much physical activity it would take to burn off a 550 calorie burger. Finally, a focus on calories, say some experts, misses the point, since a small Coke could have the same calories as a handful of almonds, though to say they are the same nutritionally would be absurd.

The researchers conclude that the data could help create more targeted health communication strategies that could help up awareness for menu labels and benefit Americans. With more education, diners may at least realize just how much junk is their fast food.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Processed Food Hurts Your Immune System—And Your Kids’ Too

Poor dietary habits get passed down in DNA

Society’s over-indulgence on foods full of sugar, salt and fat may be ruining our immune systems, a new study says.

A study published in Nutrition Journal looked at the impact the Western diet and lifestyle has on people’s immune function. It found that the large number of calories in processed and fast food may lead to health problems such as increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.

And we’re not only harming ourselves. The study authors point to research that poor dietary choices get “encoded” into both DNA scaffolding and into the gut microbiome, meaning that food and lifestyle choices can permanently change the balance of bacteria in our bodies and can weaken the immune system. It also means those changes can be passed onto offspring.

The study’s author, Dr. Ian Myles, says he was surprised by how heavily gut bacteria determined a child’s health. “Our bodies are a kind of mini-ecosystem, and anything that disturbs our bacteria can alter our health in profound ways,” he adds.

Myles, a doctor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the only way for people to avoid these immune effects is to improve their diets.

“Things that most people know—but do not feel confident in their ability to accomplish right now: eliminate processed sugars, eliminating homogenized fats,” he said. “I always tell people there’s a big difference between fat in a piece of fish or meat, and eating fat as a part of processed foods.”

TIME Fast Food

You Can Now Order a McDonald’s Big Mac on Your iPhone

McDonald's Domestic Sales Remain Weak, Posts Decline For May
A McDonald's is seen on June 9, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

As long as you live near Columbus, Georgia

McDonald’s is moving deeper into the app game in an effort to attract younger customers with strong digital options.

The fast food giant is currently testing an app that allows customers to order food ahead of time at 22 locations in Georgia and Alabama. Called McD Ordering, the app is listed in Apple’s iPhone store and on Android devices but hasn’t been officially announced yet.

Customers choose the food and drinks they want from a menu on the app, go to the selected location and scan their code. They then receive their orders after submitting a payment via the app.

Testing on the app began quietly several months ago, but McDonald’s hasn’t commented publicly on it until this week.

It’s unclear whether the app will see a broader rollout, but the company would be following in the footsteps of other chain restaurants in targeting the tech-savvy. The company has been tweaking the app to make it work more smoothly.

“We are testing these technologies in a few markets, so it’s premature to speculate on the decisions we may make after the tests, but we’re excited to bring a cutting-edge experience in the future to our customers,” Lisa McComb, a spokesman for McDonald’s said in an emailed statement.

Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts already offer smartphone apps that allow customers to order and pay remotely. The industry is responding to demand among younger fast-food customers for digital services that streamline ordering.

“To some extent, it’s McDonald’s playing catchup, but it’s also positioning them to be further ahead of everyone else,” said Darren Tristano, vice president of food industry analyst Technomic. “It’s very demand-driven by a young generation, whose new wallet resembles an iPhone.”

McDonald’s has had an app for several years called McD which sends offers to customers to redeem at about 2,000 of the company’s 14,000 locations.

TIME Fast Food

KFC Suggests Story of Scarred Girl Booted From Store Was a Hoax

But KFC will still donate $30,000 towards the girl's medical bills

Kentucky Fried Chicken suggested Tuesday that a family claiming their little girl was asked to leave a restaurant because the scars on her face from a pit bull attack were disturbing other customers actually made the story up.

The bizarre story concerns three-year-old Victoria Wilcher, who was reportedly mauled by pitbulls belonging to her family, leaving heavy scarring on her face. Her family said last month that she was asked to leave a Jackson, Miss., KFC restaurant because her appearance disturbed other customers. That claim, initially floated on a “Victoria’s Victories” Facebook page that appeared to have been taken offline Tuesday, ignited outrage on social media, prompting an apology from KFC on June 15 and a promise to spend $30,000 on Wilcher’s medical bills.

But KFC said Tuesday that it no longer believes the incident actually took place.

“Like the rest of America, the KFC family has been moved by the story of Victoria’s injuries and recovery,” KFC spokesman Rick Maynard said. “After the alleged incident was reported to us, two investigations took place, including one by an independent investigator. Neither revealed any evidence that the incident occurred and we consider the investigation closed. We are honoring our commitment to make a $30,000 donation to assist with Victoria’s medical bills. We hope everyone keeps Victoria in their thoughts and prayers. She will certainly be in ours.”

A lawyer for Victoria’s grandmother, who made the initial claim, said Tuesday that the family stands by its story. “Victoria’s family did not anticipate that the response to ‘Victoria’s Victories’ would be so widespread and generous,” lawyer Bill Kellum said in a statement. “A family member simply posted a comment on Victoria’s page regarding her experience at KFC that subsequently went viral. Victoria’s family certainly did not expect the publicity resulting from the post. However, Victoria and her family are very appreciative of the outpouring of sympathy, prayers, donations and love from individuals and entities all over the world.”

“I promise it’s not a hoax, I never thought any of this would blow up the way it has,” multiple news reports cited Victoria’s aunt as writing on the GoFundMe page where her family was raising money. Those comments preceded KFC’s statement and the page was also offline late Tuesday.

When reports that Victoria was asked to leave the restaurant ignited a firestorm of criticism on social media, KFC moved quickly to tamp the outrage.

“As soon as we were notified of this report on Friday, we immediately began an investigation, as this kind of hurtful and disrespectful action would not be tolerated by KFC,” the company said at the time. “Regardless of the outcome of our investigation, we have apologized to Victoria’s family and are committed to assisting them. The company is making a $30,000 donation to assist with her medical bills. The entire KFC family is behind Victoria.”

The Mississippi-based Laurel Leader-Call newspaper, citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, first reported the possibility of a hoax on Tuesday. The family has raised more than $135,000 in the wake of the initial claim, according to numerous reports.

“Please do not believe untrue media,” Victoria’s aunt Rials Bates wrote on the GoFundMe page that was no longer online Tuesday, ABC reports. “I have personally watched this family go without to provide for Victoria. They have not and would not do anything to hurt Victoria in any way.”

-Additional reporting by Joan E Greve

TIME Fast Food

Popeyes Spent a Crazy Amount to Buy Back Its Own Recipe

Popeyes Buys Its Own Recipe
A sign displayed outside a Popeyes outlet in Los Angeles, California. David McNew—Getty Images

A recipe isn't always owned by the restaurant

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc. announced on Monday that it purchased many of its core ingredients’ recipes for $43 million. The recipe was previously owned by manufacturer Diversified Foods and Seasonings (DFS).

“This transaction now brings important intellectual property—Popeyes’ core recipes—under brand ownership for the first time in our Company’s history,” CEO Cheryl Bashelder said in a press release.

As a result, Popeyes will no longer pay DFS a $3.1 million annual royalty, part of a contract that gave Popeyes licensing rights to the manufacturer’s recipes. The agreement would have extended until 2029.

The recipe licensing deal dates back to 1991, when Popeyes founder Al Copeland filed for bankruptcy. Copeland, who founded DFS in 1984 to supply ingredients to his fried chicken franchise, lost ownership of Popeyes in the settlement, but retained DFS and rights to several of Popeyes’ recipes. After Copeland died in 2008, DFS was passed to his estate.

Popeyes is named after Popeye Doyle, a character in the 1971 film The French Connection.

MONEY Food & Drink

New Doritos Fast Food Monstrosity Embarks on Free Sample Tour

Doritos Loaded
Doritos—courtesy 7-Eleven, Inc.

Free samples of Doritos Loaded, a nacho cheese-encrusted cheese stick product, are being handed out at 7-Eleven stores in Dallas on Tuesday and Los Angeles on Friday, with more locations to come.

When Doritos Loaded was spotted at a 7-Eleven in Washington, D.C., this past February, it was reported with some disbelief, mixed with equal shares disgust and desire. The new product, as shown in photos that immediately went viral on social media, looks like a triangle-shaped chicken nugget—if a chicken nugget had fluorescent orange breading, the saltiness and spice of original nacho Doritos, and instead of “chicken” was filled with gooey melted orange-yellow cheese.

“I WANT THIS IN MY FACE,” one Tweeter commented of the cheese-stick-like delicacy. Another blogger summed it up: The concept of Doritos Loaded sounds “awesome and disgusting” at the same time. After what was apparently a successful test run, Doritos Loaded will be available nationally at 7-Elevens starting in early July. A four-pack sells for $1.99 and has 350 calories.

In anticipation of the launch, a Doritos Loaded tour hits the road this week, kicking off in Dallas on Tuesday, June 17, with free samples being given out in two sessions (10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) at two area 7-Elevens. This is something of a magical mystery tour, as 7-Eleven isn’t revealing a full schedule or list of locations, but the company did just announce that freebies would also be handed out at one or more 7-Elevens in Los Angeles on Friday, June 20.

Doritos Loaded is following in the footsteps of other diabolical, attention-grabbing fast food mashups, including the KFC Double Down, the Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco, last summer’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy’s, Chicken Waffle tenders at Popeyes, and, of course, the Doritos Locos Taco at Taco Bell. The latter has been crowned as the “biggest launch in Taco Bell’s history,” and it spawned earlier Doritos-based delicacies, including the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco.

While 7-Eleven is selling the new hot nacho cheese sticks, it didn’t create them. The snack was developed by the Plano, Texas-based research and development arm of PepsiCo, parent of Doritos maker Frito-Lay, the Dallas News explained.

As for the early reviews of Doritos Loaded, they’ve been a bit mixed. “They tasted like Nacho Cheese Doritos dipped in queso,” one early sampler told Yahoo News in February. “The smell was awesome and distinctly Dorito-y.”

On the other hand, the blogger who goes by the name Junk Food Guy was disappointed after his taste test. “The inconsistency of the amount of cheese inside was a concern, as some had lots of goo and some didn’t,” he wrote. “When there wasn’t enough cheese, it was just a dry salty shell. At its best, it was sort of crispy on the outside, sort of saucy on the inside.”

For potentially viral, over-the-top products such as these, however, taste is only one part of the equation. Arguably more important is the product’s ability to grab the nation’s attention in what’s an incredibly noisy and competitive marketplace. Clearly, 7-Eleven is expecting big things. “Get Ready for the Biggest Product Launch in 7-Eleven History,” 7-Eleven declared in its Doritos Loaded tour announcement.

How big of a hit will Doritos Loaded be? We’ll have to wait and see. Regardless of its success, we probably haven’t seen the last Doritos-infused treat to be launched at fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Given the spicy chip’s history of hits and widespread appeal, new food product makers seem to understandably be of the opinion: When in doubt, just add Doritos.

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