97% of kids’ meals at chain restaurants flunk basic nutritional needs, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
That would be 97% of french fries, pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, and soda. Wow! Do healthy kids’ meals exist?
Well, Subway was the only restaurant chain that met basic nutritional guidelines as set by the National Restaurant Association or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
I have lived this study first hand as a Mom. My son wants the chicken fingers and french fries almost every time. Or the mac and cheese. I’m in a restaurant, I don’t want to cause a scene or set up a big series of huffs, puffs, and whines … so I say yes. Plus I know we eat healthy at home, so I figure every once in a while won’t kill him.
Except for those weeks that we’re super busy and we wind up having dinner out 3 or 4 times in restaurants. Then I cringe … a lot.
Healthy Kids Meals Are Possible
Here’s how to get kids to eat healthy when you’re heading into a restaurant.
Set expectations. Let your kid know he or she has to order healthy foods off the menu. Consider it a learning experience to teach them some good nutrition. Make a game of it. The younger you start, the better.
Let your kids order off the adult menu. Yes it’s pricier, so ask if you could get a half portion with a price reduction. (If not, at least you’ll have leftovers, so it’s two or more meals for the price of one.) Salads do seem more rare than unicorns on kids’ menus, so ask for some accommodation from the waitstaff.
Ask for veggies cut up on the side. I learned this trick when my son was under two and on the verge of a fit at a fancy restaurant because he was hungry. The waitress (bless her heart and I tipped really well!) saw where things were heading and grabbed a few cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks for him to gnaw on. He was instantly happy and I was relieved.
Try to upgrade what you’ve got. Maybe get sweet potato fries instead of regular. How about whole grain instead of white bread? Swap chips for an apple. Keep asking for substitutions until you can find a healthier choice.
Ditch the soda. This is non-negotiable in my house. My son is allowed one soda a week and that’s it. (I agreed to this under duress, but didn’t want him sneaking and cheating at friends’ houses … he’ll actually tell us when he drinks one when he’s out.) When I was growing up, it was water or milk and maybe OJ for a special Sunday brunch. I realize there is controversy over milk these days … but water is a perfectly reasonable thing to drink. So make them drink it, you’re the parent.
In a perfect world we’d eat almost all our meals at home and our kids would be asking for veggies instead of french fries. But the reality is we’ve got to work with what’s on the menu. Try to do a little bit better and you’ll be passing on some great life lessons to your kids.
What tricks do you use to get your kids to eat healthy in restaurants?