Kids’ Menus are Friendly, but Fatty
Children’s menus are geared to please mini palates. But they often serve up far more fat and calories than kids get at home or in a kid-size fast food meal.
Thank goodness for your local table-service chain restaurants. They are relatively cheap, the kids love them and you don’t have to cook that night.
But there is one drawback. Many kids’ meals typically have enough calories, fat and salt to rival the average adult-size meal at a fast food restaurant.
Taking a close look
Take a peek at any chain restaurant kid’s fare, and what you see looks eerily similar to your favorite drive-thru options. The kids’ menus are guaranteed to please little palates: French fries, chicken fingers, cheeseburgers and pizza. But some portions are so large that an adult would have to order a sirloin steak, a large order of fries and three pats of butter to match the fat and calories.
A recent study actually compared the nutrition profile between fast food and non-fast food restaurants. They concluded that fast food restaurants offer smaller servings, so they have fewer calories and less total fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates than their restaurant counterparts.
Making healthier choices
The fact is, eating out is no longer a special occasion, but more a way of life. In that regard, parents need to be more selective about what their children are eating. This is especially true if kids are going to be eating out three or more times a week.
The better news is that some restaurants are reworking their children’s menus. They’re adding healthier fare, such as broccoli, grapes, carrots and grilled chicken. This is in response to reports that obesity rates in children have doubled since 1980.
But until you see healthier options at all restaurants, you’ll need to be creative when dining out. Your kids deserve a shot at a nutritious meal just as much as you do. Here are some suggestions:
Pare down portions. Restaurants put enough food in their kids’ meals for children with the biggest appetites: 12-year-old boys. Unless you’re dining with one, there’s probably too much food. Split a kids’ meal between two children 6 and under and order an extra beverage.
Substitute. Ask if the restaurant would grill those chicken strips instead of frying them. Ask if you can substitute a vegetable, baked potato, rice or applesauce for the fries. Choose low-fat milk instead of soda or fruit punch.
Order an “adult” appetizer for your child’s main dish, or check out the soup selections, such as bean, veggie or chicken noodle. Or order an entrée and share it. Adult portions are usually more than generous anyway. Splitting the entrée between two kids also works well.
Try an ethnic restaurant. Consider ordering a few dishes family-style and share. Try less spicy ones for starters. This is a good way to introduce your child to new foods.
In the meantime, keep pushing for restaurants to list nutrition info on the menu. Then you can navigate through the minefield of calories and fat to find the healthy options – for yourself and your kids.