When you dine out with your children, what are the odds you’ll find something healthy on the kids menu? While there certainly are exceptional independent restaurants and chains that make an effort, most kids menu items contribute to the obesity epidemic in our society. If you care about the health of your children and want to promote good nutrition, here are my recommendations for dining out with your family.
Before Going Out: Go online and check out the children’s menu at local restaurants until you find a place that will work for you. If you find the options aren’t healthy, then see if there is something on the adult menu that you can split between two kids or that you can share with your child. If you need a larger portion, order a salad to start or some extra vegetables on the side. Plan a bit, so you can order thoughtfully, before you head out.
The Drinks: Water, water, water, water! Just have water. Your kids will survive and if they’re thirsty, they’ll drink it. Be a good role model for your kids and don’t order a soda with your meal. Have water yourself or if you’re having a glass of wine or cup of coffee, explain that adults are allowed to have these drinks, which are healthy in moderation. Fat free milk is another good option for kids. Make that regular, not chocolate!
Starters: Having appetizers before the entree can lead to overeating, but I do make an exception when eating out with my children. Once a month we take the kids out for pancakes. I always order a strategic appetizer of fresh fruit for the table so they’ll load up on the healthy stuff before the treats arrive. They don’t finish their pancakes, which is fine with me, and the negative impact of the syrup is partially outweighed by the healthy start. When we go out for dinner, I’ll usually order a side of raw carrots or cooked green beans to start. Often restaurants will be happy to accommodate that request, even if raw carrots aren’t on the menu.
The Entree: Pizza, burgers, breaded and deep fried chicken strips, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs…EEK! These things should not be staples for our youth. Try grilled fish, grilled chicken and veggie burgers! Burgers or sandwiches should always be served on whole grain or whole wheat buns. If you select something healthy for your own entree, you’ll lead by example and your kids will be more likely to follow suit. My sister introduced her young kids to fish entrees by ordering “a fancy kind of chicken called flounder.”
The Sides: If you must order fries, and I hope you make it a rare treat, order them as a side with one meal only and distribute the fries to everyone at the table. Everyone else should have fruit or vegetables on the side, and those should be shared as well. This is pretty easy with young children who are accustomed to having a parent select their food, order it for them, and manage their plates, but you can make it standard for older kids too. Who is the parent? You are! And you are allowed to set rules for the good of your children.
Dessert: Oh, is it your birthday? Wonderful! Happy Birthday and by all means, order up some dessert! Fresh fruit with some sorbet is a great option. Anything that comes in a small portion is reasonable. Better yet, order one dessert and enough spoons for the entire table to share. If, however, it isn’t your birthday, anniversary, graduation or first ballet recital, skip the dessert and head out for a family walk after dinner.
Enjoy your meal and thanks for listening!
I wish you the best of health.
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