Only 42pc of restaurants offered any vegetables and 40pc offered chips with every main meal, according to a new Safefood survey launched at the All-Island Obesity Action Forum.
A second Safefood study found that shoppers who are stressed, tired or hungry are more likely to make unhealthy food choices when buying food.
The watchdog group is urging parents to demand healthy options for their children when eating out and also has tips for shoppers to improve their food choices.
The survey found while two thirds of caterers could provide healthy options for kids, only 27pc actively promoted these choices. But 79pc said they would provide healthy menus if the demand was greater.
Most caterers (84pc) agreed that providing healthy food was important but felt the main responsibility lies with the parent.
“Consumer demand will ultimately dictate any changes to children’s menus,” said Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood.
“We would advise parents to ask for fruit and or vegetables with every kid’s meal and ask for water as a drink.
“While caterers have started to introduce healthier options on menus, they need to make them more attractive to tempt children to choose them.”
Children are in the driving seat when it comes to choosing from the restaurant menu, according to Dr Ruth Price, researcher at the University of Ulster.
“Time and convenience and the notion of a treat are the main factors driving the parents’ decision to eat out,” she said.
Eating out is associated with higher energy and fat, lower nutrients and body fat and weight gain, says the report.
Dr Price pointed to the survey finding that both parents and children agreed that the food choice while eating out was primarily decided by the child and the choice was heavily driven by the presentation and marketing of the food.
The kiddie menu study is one of two just published by Safefood which also looked at the habits of shoppers in relation to buying healthy food.
The study showed that women from higher socioeconomic groups and those with a better knowledge of nutrition were more likely to look at labels and buy healthy foods.
Based on their findings, Safefood is recommending that shoppers plan ahead, have a few easy recipes they can dish up regularly and avoid promotions for unhealthy foods.