Low Cost Kid Options Often Mean High-Sodium, High-Calorie, High-Sugar, and High-Fat Meals
The kid menu at restaurants is often the first page opened when families go out to dinner. It makes sense. They’re “complete” meals with drinks, an entrée, and oftentimes even a dessert. Portion size is right. There’s less waste. And they’re always “kid friendly.”
But what does “kid friendly” mean?
Usually, kid menu options have fried chicken strips, mac ‘n cheese, grilled cheese, nuggets, and almost always French fries. Beverages often include apple juice, orange juice, or a soda.
With kids, on average, receiving 25% of their daily calories from fast food or other restaurants, it’s time to re-think the kid menu and what we, as parents, encourage our kids to eat when we go out.
Here are some tips to avoid the landslide of calories, sodium, fat and sugar when eating out with kids:
- Beware of the beverage! Most fruit drinks (from concentrate) have the same amount of sugar as do sodas. It’s easy to consume too many calories through a straw. New legislation in cities around the country is pressuring restaurants to take sugary beverages off kid meals. Until this happens, beverage beware. It’s smart to make water your go-to option for beverages.
- No, don’t take fries with that. Alas, the French fry dilemma. We all love a good plate of French fries. They are delicious. They’re heavenly golden potatoes, right? The New York Times urged us to re-think our potato-fry obsession. In the United States an average of 115.6 pounds of potatoes per person, per year – a third of which are eaten in the form of fries. Yikes. Instead of automatically going for the side of fries, try something else: baked sweet potato wedges, kale chips, or fresh-cut veggies. Once in a while, indulge in fries. But be aware of super-sizing or automatically order a deep-fried plate of calories and fat.
- Hold off on sauces. Ranch, ketchup, blue cheese, honey mustard – all are tempting dips for our kids. That said, they add calories, fat, and sugars – with little to no nutritional value. Replace these bottled wonders with guacamole, hummus, yogurt dip, mango salsa, even peanut butter. The more natural, the better. Remember to beware of Frankenstein processed foods.
- Skip the kid options all together. Instead, share a couple of appetizers and entrees with the whole family. This provides everyone with the chance to taste new things. As parents, we have an opportunity to model adventurous eating with our kids. Order something new for everyone. Have everyone try it and talk about the flavors, textures. Each time you go out with your family, have someone else order something completely new. Encourage variety.
- Breadbasket beware! Again, those garlicky, buttery breadsticks are hard to resist. But they also fill us up with empty calories and fat. Tell the waiter to forego the breadbasket and order an appetizer (something new and exciting) for everyone to share.
Eating out with kids doesn’t have to mean breaded chicken chunks, fries, and ketchup. It’s a unique opportunity to try new things, encourage adventurous eating, and teach children about being mindful of what’s on their plates and what’s going into their bodies.