Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Kids Can Eat Out and Eat Healthy

Learning How to Make Healthy Choices at Fast Food & Casual Dining Restaurants

Moms and dads are busier than ever these days. Between working full time, after school activities, teacher conferences, and more, it's virtually impossible to eat a healthy, home cooked meal most nights of the week. As a result, eating out has become the norm for most American families and this has led to unhealthy eating habits for parents and children alike.
Portions in most restaurants are much larger than the USDA Recommended Daily Allowance leading to high caloric intake of unhealthy food options. Most kids' meals offered at restaurants also consist of fried, unhealthy foods. Many restaurants are also now offering three-for-one meals, consisting of appetizers, a main dish and a dessert, totaling well over 2,000 calories per meal much of the time. These combinations not only encourage poor quality and the high caloric intake, but also instill unhealthy eating habits in children that will most likely continue to eat like this through childhood and into adulthood.
Parents Are The Role Models
Having said that, eating out does not always have to mean large, unhealthy portions of fatty foods. Parents can and should teach their children that there are healthy options no matter where you eat. Teaching children healthy eating habits now, especially when eating out, is essential in establishing a healthy lifestyle at a young age. Life is only going to get more complicated for them as they grow up, go to college and get jobs so eating out often will most likely be the norm for them as well.
Teach the USDA Food Pyramid
First and foremost, parents need to educate their children when it comes to nutrition. Visit the USDA Website and show them what the food pyramid for children looks like. This will give them a visual picture of what they should be eating. When looking at a menu in a restaurant, ask your children where on the food pyramid the food belongs. Most foods, such as a cheeseburger, contains ingredients from many of the areas, giving them much of the USDA requirement in just one meal. If kids see this, they may opt for a healthier choice, such as half of a chicken sandwich or a chicken salad with has less calories, less fat and will allow them more room for dessert or a side dish such as French fries as well. In addition to seeing what their food contains, the website also offers games, coloring pages, work sheets and classroom materials. Parents can turn healthy eating into a learning opportunity as well.
Prepare Before You Go Out To Eat
While online learning about the food pyramid, parents should also look at menus and nutritional information with their kids prior to heading out for dinner. The internet is in almost every household and most restaurants have menus and nutritional information posted online. Parents can use nutritional information as a math lesson! Teach your kids what their daily recommended caloric intake should be and how to subtract what they're eating from there. If they see that just one kid's meal from a fast food restaurant will take up more than half of what they can eat all day, they may opt for healthier options. Many meals now offer fruit or salad instead of fries with the main dish and this will drastically reduce the calorie and fat intake in meals.
Choose Restaurants That Cater To Healthy Eating
Outside of doing research online prior to heading out for that fast food dinner, parents can also make it a habit to limit their eating out to healthier restaurants and fast food eateries. There are a number of restaurants that offer roasted chicken, steamed vegetables, pasta dishes and veggie burgers, as opposed to the usual macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets or pizza that is the norm on kid's menus. PF Chang's is an excellent example, offering meals such as Chicken Lo Mein, steamed vegetables and even gluten free menu options. Corner Bakery is also an excellent and inexpensive choice offering a turkey sandwich, eggs and toast and pasta marinara. All items come with a choice of fruit as a side. In addition, Corner Bakery offers more than 100 combos under 600 calories! Corner Bakery was also named "One of the 10 Best Fast Casual Restaurants in America" in 2009 by Parents Magazine.
Share A Plate
If parents happen to come across a restaurant that does not have healthy food options for children, they can always order them an adult meal and split it. Just because they are kids does not mean they are limited to kids meal choices. Mom or dad can eat the other half (and save calories themselves!) or the other half can be packed up and taken home to be eaten the following day for lunch. My daughter is only 20 months and she eats off of the regular menu most of the times we eat out. Every restaurant, whether it's a fast food joint attached to a gas station or a fancy, upscale restaurant, has at least one healthy option can parents choose from. Even it is just a chicken sandwich, it can be ordered without mayonnaise and extra lettuce to make it a little bit better. If it's a salad, it can be ordered with light vinegarette dressing and without the croutons if need be. Minor tweaks and requests while ordering can make any food at least a little bit healthier, reducing the intake of fats and extra calories.
Skip the Soft Drinks & Juice
Last but not least are the drink options. Kids tend to be attracted to soda like magnets. Soda can contain up to 200 calories and 1/3 cup of sugar per serving and, with the unlimited option, it can add well above 500 empty calories to a child's meal. Juice does not fare much better since it's comprised of mostly sugar. Whenever possible, kids should be encouraged to eat their meal with water or milk. Sodas can be allowed on occasion but should be discouraged since they are the culprit for the obesity epidemic today. Kids CAN and should get used to drinking water with food.
By making implementing simple techniques to the family's routine, parents can raise happy, healthy kids that are informed about what they put into their bodies.

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