When my husband and I go out for date night, its pretty easy to make good choices on where we eat and what we order. The greatest challenge occurs when going out with a group, especially when there are kids involved. Why is it that kids’ menus are so packed full of fried and unhealthy foods? Reading from the kids menu at most restaurants sounds like I’m reading from a list of things one shouldn’t feed to children. “Do you want a burger, deep fried chicken fingers, pizza or macaroni and cheese?” “Do you want fries or will you be delighted with a side of veggies, when all the other kids are having fries?” “Are you OK with water?” “Does it bother you that the waiter pointed out, ‘the meal comes with a drink,’ and suggested you might love the lemonade?” Ugg. Make that UGG.
It can be a serious challenge to eat healthy when out in a group, especially when that group includes children. One of my best strategies is to order an “appetizer” that isn’t on the menu. I have yet to be turned down when I request a bowl of raw carrots or fresh fruit (without sugar added!) to be brought out immediately for the kids to share. I decline bread for our part of the table, if its offered before the meal. If the children fill up on the carrots (or fruit), they’ll eat less of the miserable junk food from the kids’ menu.
I’ve also found lately that my kids like their meals, and they eat healthier, when I buy an adult entree and have them split it. That way, they can share a salmon filet with broccoli on the side, or grilled chicken with a vegetable medley. They end up eating foods more similar to what they eat at home when we order from the regular menu.
Often the key is colluding with the other parents, or at least one other family, before we go out. When we dine with my sister’s family, I know I can count on her to share my nutritional concerns. We try to seat our families together so our kids positively influence one another. The evening becomes more about hanging out with their cousins than about eating nutritionally bankrupt food. There’s usually at least one parent in each family who will buy into a plan, made in advance, to try to keep the kids’ food reasonably healthy.
For me, I try to feed myself the same way I feed my kids. Ordering a salad or vegetable to start can reduce the amount of entree I eat, which is usually a good thing. I search for fish options, never fried or breaded, and I decline bread before or during the meal. Many restaurants offer vegetarian choices, but keep in mind that a dish loaded with cheese, sour cream or even pasta is probably a worse choice than a piece of grilled fish or chicken.
Portion control is a major part of negotiating your restaurant diet plan. Might you be playing defense for an NFL team? No? You’re not? Might you be eating as if you were? Remember, when restaurants are doling out portions, they are trying to make even the biggest eater satisfied. If you want to reduce your weight or prevent weight gain, I promise you that the average serving in a restaurant is too big to eat in its entirety. Portion control people! We’ve got to do it for ourselves since the restaurant industry is not going to do it for us. Consider sharing a meal with your child or another parent. Alternatively, order an appetizer as an entree. Should you order a full sized meal, be sure to request an extra plate where you can stash some of the food for later. Eat all of your vegetables and only 1/4 of the protein and starch. Bring those home to share with your family tomorrow, along with a hearty portion of veggies that you make in your own kitchen.
Alcoholic drinks are their own story. Suffice to say, if you can make it through your meal with just water, you’ve done something very good for your waistline. If you have to consume something more, try a glass of wine. Just one. Never forget that nothing good comes in a pitcher, so forget that pitcher of beer or margaritas. It will just lead to diner’s regret the next morning when you get on the scale.
Its hard to eat well in a group, but remember that you are not the only person concerned about your weight, your health, and the nutritional state of your family. If one person takes the lead, often the other parents are relieved. They don’t want their kids loading up on burgers and fries either. They certainly don’t want to regret that they’ve gone from an appetizer of potato skins, to deep fried fish and chips, to dessert, all washed down with a margarita. Or two. Or three. Show some leadership and help those you love be healthy too!
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best of health!