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Healthy Meals for Kids When Eating Out

Posted Dec 10 2008 9:14pm

Eating healthy

Dining out is challenging enough for adults but when it comes to kids, the challenge is even greate r. Even though many sit-down and fast food restaurants are adding healthier adult dining options, the meal choices for the little ones are still surprisingly high in calories and fat. When surveying the kid’s menu at fast food restaurants, the standard seems to be fried chicken nuggets or chicken strips served alongside a serving of greasy French fries. It would almost be a joke to call this meal low fat or nutritionally sound. If you’re looking for a healthy menu for kids at a restaurant or fast food stop, what are your options?

The solution to a healthy children’s menu doesn’t appear to lie with the chain restaurants. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently surveyed the kid’s menu at seven leading chain restaurants and found the choices to be high in calories, fat, sugar, and low in nutritional value. The worst of the bunch was Outback Steakhouse where the children’s menu offering of cheeseburger, fries, soda, and sundae added up to a whopping 1,700 calories and 58 grams of fat. Is it any wonder that the number of obese children is skyrocketing?

Although most restaurants have yet to embrace the concept of a healthy children’s menu, there are ways you can make meals more nutritionally sound for your children when you’re dining out as a family.

Choose Your Restaurants Carefully

If you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant with a healthy menu for kids, most of the chains and franchises aren’t going to offer what you’re looking for. One exception would be Cracker Barrel restaurant where kids can get a variety of veggie items on a kid’s plate as well as grilled (not fried) chicken strips. Buffet restaurants are another option since they offer a variety of vegetables that can be substituted for the standard French fries. To help your child eat healthy, be prepared to give him some assistance in his selections since buffets are notorious for displaying tempting high calorie, high fat treats and desserts.

Fast Foods?

Subway restaurant offers a healthy menu for kids. Their “Fresh Fit for Kids” meal consists of a miniature sub sandwich, a healthy side item such as yogurt or fruit, and juice. There are also healthy options for adults which makes this a good choice for the whole family. Most of the other fast food restaurants are still lacking in options for a healthy children’s menu.

The Second Option

Modify your child’s menu selections when eating out. If a healthy menu for kids isn’t available, improvise a bit. See if you can substitute low fat milk for the standard whole milk. At sit-down restaurants, order a small side of vegetables in place of the standard French fries on the children’s menu. Substitute juice or water for the ubiquitous high sugar soda. If your child is still hungry after eating this type of meal, bring along a package of nuts or an apple to offer to him after dinner in lieu of dessert.

With a little planning, you can dine out with your children without guilt even if a healthy menu for kids isn’t offered. It’s far better than serving your kids chicken nuggets and fries.

By Dr. Kristi

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