Beware of the Kid Menu and Make Eating an Adventure
You don’t want to cook and often the solution is takeout dinner. And somehow, over the years, take out for kids = packaged, fried, high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium food to mask a lack of flavor. Add this to the fact that many kids now live a more sedentary lifestyle, and we have a generation of kids who aren’t as healthy as they could be.
Getting “fast food” is actually a great idea so you spend less time in the kitchen and have more opportunities to spend time with your family. Rethink the Kid Menu and try some of these smart, quick, summer meal choices you can get at most supermarkets or prepare in minutes!
- Buy a roasted chicken. This is a staple of most supermarkets. Removing the skin can reduce fat and sodium. Serve it with cut up summer fruits and topped with a dollop of plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon or drizzled with honey. Quick, easy, summery, delicious!
- Share the good stuff. When going out to dinner, instead of opening up to the kid menu, try having your kids share a meal off the regular menu. Perhaps let them pick out two meals and what they don’t finish can go home for eaten the next day. Get kids used to trying other flavors and textures by sharing tastes from your meal and encourage choices other than fried or cheesy menu options.
- Order a half-size entrée (or regular-size and take it home). If we program our kids to think they should always eat what is offered on the kid’s menu they will start to believe it and only want that meal. Let your child pick from the regular menu and ask if they can do a half order. Guide your child’s choices realizing experimentation with food may result in an unfinished meal. Try to keep the experience fun and experiential rather than stressful.
- Switch up the bread basket. Look at the menu before you go. Find an appetizer everyone can agree on and order it immediately when you sit down to prevent your kids from filling up on bread. Try this at home, let the kids plan it, as a fun way to start your meal!
- Healthy doesn’t mean time consuming. Become a savvy shopper and save time on food prep. Buy in-season fruits and vegetables for optimal flavor and freshness (you will save money as well!). If you have a large freezer make large batches of soup, chili and sauces when before summer and freeze for later. Buy pre-cut veggies and fruits for quick go-to snacks and meal prep. Make eating colorful with better nutrition by being prepared so you are not always opening a package of crackers or chips!
- Become food label literate as a family. Teach kids how to read a nutrition label. Clean eating is a new, healthy trend, but it’s important to understand processed foods are not all evil. Some processing is needed to take bacteria and germs out of our foods (like pasteurizing milk).
- Processed foods are any food with a label (which means more than one ingredient was used to make it).
- Processed foods are foods that have changed from their original inception (like applesauce or taking bran and germ from grains to make refined breads).
- The key to choosing processed foods is simple: If you don’t know what an ingredient listed on the label is, don’t buy it. If it comes “ready to heat up” try to buy products that have no added chemicals or artificial additives and are not packaged in plastic. Only heat food in metal, glass or paper containers.
- Create a culture of food adventure. Kids’ options on most menus lack imagination, taste, and balanced nutrition. They take the adventure out of trying new foods. Eating out is an opportunity to expose ourselves, and our children, to new foods and possibly new cultures. New flavors, new presentations, new textures. Try to order a new meal or food each time you go out. Share it as a family. Talk about what you like about it, what you may not like. IF it is done in an environment that embraces change and accepts we all have different palates and taste buds it can be fun and stress free for parents and kids!
So next time somebody hands you the kid menu, kindly hand it back and start your family’s journey to more adventurous restaurant eating.