Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Eating for the Health of It at Restaurants with Kids

Eating for the Health of It at Restaurants with Kids

Most parents take their kids out to eat at some point during the week and many families eat out multiple times per week on average.

It might be a quick meal on the way to an event or sports practice or it might be a sit down meal with family or friends.

Eating out has become the norm for many children these days. It is estimated that families eat out 15% more than they did 20 years ago.

One research study reports that one third of today’s children eat out at least once a day!

Families find time constraints or inconvenience to be the reasons why home cooking isn’t happening as much today as it did ‘back in the day’.

Luckily, it seems the trend is toward more parents realizing how important it is that their kids eat a more nutritious diet, not just at home or at school but also when they choose to dine out.

Finding Healthy Kid Fare

How good a job do your favorite family restaurants do to meet the nutritional needs of your children?

Do you feel that the children’s menus in your local eateries and national chain restaurants lack healthy choices for kids?

  • Can you get fresh fruit or vegetables as part of the meal?
  • Do you think that the portion sizes are adequate or excessive?
  • Can they get a beverage that isn’t primarily composed of sugar? Soft drinks are the most common option found on kids’ menus.
  • Are there any options that aren’t fried? Chicken fingers and French fries are the most common items served.
  • Do you ever skip the kids’ menu altogether and choose other menu items off the adult menu?

The reality is that some restaurants are changing the way they present their kids’ menus.

A recent study reports that fast food and full-service restaurants are doing a little bit better at reducing the calories in the food choices for kids but have a long way to go to offer truly healthy meals.

The recommendations are that a kids’ meal be 600 calories or less. Some kids’ meals exceed 1000 calories, which is as much as many need for the entire day.

Another study showed that most children’s menus exceed dietary guidelines for fat, saturated fat, and sodium.

Restaurant meals have fewer nutrients than foods prepared in your home kitchen. Less than one third of the 20 restaurants studied met recommendations for nutrients.

Kids’ Menu Alternatives

Parents have options if they want alternatives to the usual kids’ menu.

They can order their kids’ foods off the adult menu such as appetizers, which are usually smaller in portion size.

Or they can split some of their meal with the kids. Some restaurants will let you order a half portion which could be doable for your child.

Parents can also order an a la carte side of veggies off the adult menu to accompany an appetizer to make a more balanced meal.

What Do Kids (and Parents) Want?

Kids across the nation want more choice in their meal.

They would like to pick the items they are served not get a one size fits all meal and pre-determined sides.

They want fresh foods that are flavorful just like adults. The fresher foods are usually more nutritious.

They want their meals made to order, not sitting in the hot box waiting to be served.

Most of all, they want their food to taste homemade.

Options for kids is the watchword for dining out.

Healthy Programs In Restaurants

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and other organizations are listening to parents and kids wishes for eating out.

The NRA has implemented a program call Kids LiveWell that has set criteria for nutrition on the kids’ menus across the country. This program strives for lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy food on the menu. Deep fried items are not permitted.

Here’s a list of restaurants that participate in Live Well.

They also have a smartphone app, called Kids LiveWell, that can help you locate a restaurant near you with healthier kids’ options.

Recent pressure to help parents fight an epidemic of overweight and obese children, restaurants have joined the fight for health – albeit slowly!

Another program is Healthy Kids Choice, Inc.(HCK), which is a nonprofit program designed to help kids access healthier choices in restaurants.

Dietitian Developed Programs

Dietitians help with both of these programs to develop alternatives which are healthier and even creating recipes that are more appropriate. 

Dietitian help chefs by offering suggestions for healthy additions to the menus based on what is already available such as celery sticks as side dishes which are already used on adult dishes.

Chefs don’t always think how easy it would be to move ‘adult’ items to the kids’ menus.

As more parents insist on healthier options when they eat out, more restaurant owners and chefs will know that this is one very important goal for customer satisfaction.

Families will need to continue to eat out some part of the week and using information such as these programs can help parents make the healthiest choices of restaurants to visit for their kids’ health!

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