Taking your kids out to eat can present real challenges when it comes to finding healthy choices. After researching the nutritional numbers for over 4,000 beverages, entrees, sides and desserts at 45 chain restaurants, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says that in spite of making some changes, restaurants have made little progress in improving the nutritional quality of kid’s menus. And according to the Department of Agriculture, the average kid’s meal with an entree, side, beverage and dessert has about 1,000 calories. And that’s actually close to the amount that an 8-year old should have in an entire day.
Consumer Reports food experts have some tips for dining out healthier.
First: share something from the regular menu with your child. Portions are generally oversized anyway, and you’ll both eat better as a result. Or a healthy appetizer or salad might make a full meal for your child.
Next – substitute! It’s really not enough to just make a healthy entree choice. The sides, drinks and desserts can actually pack a lot of calories, fats and sodium. Ask your server to substitute fruit for fries, or milk instead of juice. And skip the sauce. CR’s nutritionists warn that anything with cheese or a creamy sauce is probably loaded with fat.
Finally, many restaurants’ kid-sized desserts have as many calories as an entree and double the saturated fat. So consider ordering just one for everyone to share.
If you are dining at a chain, look for a little apple logo next to certain items on the kid’s menu. Those are from the Kids LiveWell program, started by National Restaurant Association. Participants offer at least one meal and one side dish that meet healthful nutritional guidelines…so encourage your child to go for that.