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Healthy + Kids + Restaurant: Can They Coexist?

When Janet Helm, registered dietitian, from Nutrition Unplugged wrote about food trends for 2010, I was thrilled to see that healthy kids meals were on the list and on chefs’ minds.

At last–I thought! But some restaurants are still falling behind.

On Sunday, we had brunch with some friends. Here’s what the kids got:

Fried chicken tenders with French fries

Three large pancakes with butter and syrup

Now I have to admit, I didn’t look at the kids menu and I can’t find it at the restaurant’s website. It’s possible that there were healthier options, but the parents didn’t order them.

Regardless, feeding your kids outside the house can be frustrating. Here are some things I learned from my experience as a dietitian and mother:

Adult food tends to be healthier

Sad for our kids but very true. I started ordering myself a meal my son can eat from. Other options are to split an adult meal between 2 kids, or offer half of it for 1 child and take the rest home. You can also order your child a healthy appetizer, like hummus dip with bread.

It’s OK to pack food from home

Especially when your kids are young. Toddlers don’t understand the excitement of restaurant food yet. This also saves you money. Compare how much you spend on a grilled cheese sandwich (can I mention with tons of butter?) to how much it costs you to pack 2 slices of bread with 1-2 slices of cheese! Other than cheese, you can do peanut butter/jelly or turkey, fresh cut-up fruits, applesauce, or yogurt.

Feed them at home before you go

For two reasons. One: homemade meals are generally healthier than restaurant food. Two: the wait before the meal arrives drives your child to the “too hungry” stage. Older kids will fill up on bread. Younger kids will get fussy–so you’re more likely to give them some bread to keep them quiet! Besides, when they’re fussy and hungry, and you’re distracted and hungry, what’s the easiest, fastest thing to order? Fries!

Speaking on feeding your kids, I read this article this morning and I would like to share it with you: “Why Weight? #8: Balance & Rhythm With Eating”

I have to admit I don’t have all the answers. Even with a 4 year college degree and 9 months of hardwork during my internship, feeding my son healthy meals is an education-in-progress. He’s a toddler now, and I’m sure what works for him might not work for a 6-year-old. That’s why I need your help!

Share your strategies with us. What do you do when you go out to ensure your kids eat a healthy meal? Tell us how old your kids are.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tala Kattan March 2, 2010, 12:59 pm

    my kido loves fruits and veggie’s , i skip the fries and order him carrots/salary/ or melon πŸ™‚

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 2, 2010, 2:49 pm

      Thanks Tala.

      My friend on my facebook page also commented and said:
      “Autumn Taylor-Beji: We stick to the rules even outside. No fried foods, and we choose places that will let her choose healthy sides, not french fries. Another way I help choose healthy options for my child (any myself) is to but on meal for the two of us to split. We all know restaurant portions are out of control. We also try to take snacks with us when we go out… ”

      Thanks Autum! You make great points. Packing food for snacks is always much better than buying a snack from random places. Their snacks are more like meals! I pack a snack for me too πŸ™‚

  • Stef March 2, 2010, 10:22 pm

    i don’t have kids but i have younger brothers and cousins and nutrition is very important to me. learning to live healthfully MUST start at a young age, it will just be natural for kids as they get older, they won’t have to struggle to change later in life! i agree, the responsibility falls on the parents to make good choices like the ones listed above

  • Dalia Mahadin March 2, 2010, 11:57 pm

    For me usually before going out I feed my daughter her normal meal so when we go out to eat she will not be hungry,so I order orange juice and any healthy snack for her and if she asks to eat I order extra plate and share with her my food

  • Joie de vivre March 3, 2010, 12:09 am

    Nour,
    Thanks for visiting! I was excited to find you on Twitter. I saw your posting for tumeric recipes. This soup doesn’t exactly highlight tumeric like you phrased, but it does have it in it and, it’s my most favorite soup EVER! http://joiedevivreanamateurgourmetsguide.blogspot.com/2008/11/red-lentil-and-carrot-soup-with-coconut.html

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  • Reham Meky March 3, 2010, 7:02 am

    I have to admit this is one of the toughest decisions ever…But it is not that hard for me, I cook healthy all week days, except on the weekend when we eat out once or twice, so then I think it is okay for my kids to have their share of nuggets and fries since I hardly make it at home if ever really. But sometimes there are kids grilled chicken sandwiches, and sometimes I substitute fries for baked potatoes… I always change the soda to milk since Soda is a major NO NO for my kids…I sometimes love Salad options with grilled chicken on the top…And sometimes I tend to split pasta dish with grilled chicken among my two kids…
    I also want to point out that I always have fruit and vegetable packed, or home made cakes and meals….But just when I can not have that done, I opt for the above..

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 3, 2010, 8:21 am

    Dalia: Thanks for the comment

    Joie de vivre: nice to “meet” you too. Thanks for the recipe. Will check it out

    Reham: thanks for the comment. I see your point. It’s really an act of balance. If we tell our kids they are never to eat one food (chicken nuggets or chocolate) they are going to crave it, get obsessed, and may eat it secretly. I’m glad you don’t do soda!!! I used to order soda sometimes, but now I stopped because my son wants it too…so we both get water now πŸ™‚

  • tasteofbeirut March 3, 2010, 8:51 am

    My son used to eat double-decker burgers three times a day, despite my admonitions and then one day he stopped cold turkey (after gaining 30 pounds), became a vegetarian and lost all the extra weight and some. I was so relieved because for the longest time I felt like in the US I was fighting a losing battle: It is so hard to find places that offer healthy and fresh foods to kids, plus kids are conditioned to eat the junk, the campaign is insidious and effective, with TV ads and such.

  • Nicole, RD March 3, 2010, 12:45 pm

    This is such an important topic! While I am not a mother, raising my kids healthfully is so important. I think it’s important, too, to find a balance between health and normalcy. I fear raising a child who fears anything not nutritious or fears weight gain. While I want to give my kids the tools to be healthy and successful, I never want it to go too far, if that makes sense.

  • Lina March 3, 2010, 2:00 pm

    usually I cook healthy food ,I do not fry food and do not add fat to the food, almost every 2 -3 weeks we take our child to restaurants, so I think there is no matter if he ate a little bit of junk food as a small portions

  • 5 Star Foodie March 3, 2010, 11:22 pm

    We only go out casually sometimes and when we do my daughter does tend to get a kids meal (a burger or mac & cheese) but instead of french fries she gets an apple sauce or a veggie side. She always drinks milk. At fancier restaurants, either in US or in Europe, whether she shares with me or orders her own courses, the meals are always healthy and balanced.

  • Rana Mouti March 4, 2010, 7:36 am

    hello
    from my point of view ,let your child eat healthy food at home then he will eat healthy stuff at the resturant like sauted veggies or grilled chicken and fresh juices.
    for me i stressed on making healthy food for the kids during the hole week so no matter if they took one nuggets or humburger with fries during the weekend .
    when they where small 1 to 2 years i prefered to feed them before going out and it’s really comforting when you do this .

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 4, 2010, 9:23 am

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Tasteofbeirut: the abundance of food and its many variations is scary. I think kids can’t keep up with all they want to eat. It’s even scarier how much $$ is spent on marketing junk compared to how little there is to market fruits and veggies.

    Nicole: you make sense. It’s an act of balance and parents are doing their best (the comments here show that!). It’s unbelievable how those little munchkins watch and copy what we do, so we have to be careful of our actions and attitudes towards food, nutrition, and health

    Lina: yes, act of balance!

    5 star foodie: I’m glad someone shares my opinion that adult food is healthier. I wish they would serve kids smaller portions of grilled chicken and sauteed veggies instead of fried chicken and fries πŸ™‚ and I’m glad fast food restaurants are offering fruit now πŸ™‚

    Rana: thanks… it’s the balance we’re talking about. I like your point that if you teach them to eat healthy at home, they will do it by themselves outside too. I started feeding my son before I go too–helps me enjoy my meal πŸ™‚

  • Stella March 4, 2010, 11:50 am

    I don’t know about health in reference to eating out (I am always horrified at the kid’s menus even at upscale restaurants). I do notice that cooking with children makes them want to eat whatever was cooked, so I suppose having them help make the collard greens would be good???

  • Maha March 6, 2010, 9:20 am

    Hi, i don’t want to sound as a bad mom, but when we go out to eat , i allow the kids to have whatever they want.. But just to point out that we would do that once a week and sometimes it’d be every 2 weeks.. it’s more of a ritual; we go to the mall, stop by the play area, then have lunch (usually Mac meal and recently the kids started choosing fish & chips which is a better option), do some shopping that has to include something for the kids, and finish with an icecream or a biscuit.. but as i said going out is a treat for them, so i let them enjoy it all the way:D in decent restaurants, we would share the food and we usually order an extra pizza coz u can never go wrong with a pizza (in case they didn’t really like the food)..
    i usually keep raisins, fruits, breaksticks and juice at all times when we r out πŸ™‚

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 6, 2010, 4:01 pm

      Hi Maha, thanks for sharing…
      There’s no real right or wrong answer here. We all want to do the best for our kids. I would like to point out that fish and chips in not a better option πŸ™ French fries are the same, and fried fish is not better than a burger… sorry for that…
      Next time you go out, try to skip the pizza and order something else… they might feel like trying something new …it takes time, kids don’t accept new foods easily, and it takes multiple times of offering before they try… as parents, we have to keep trying …
      Have a good day!