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Choosing Healthy Foods for Kids When Eating Out

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 |
Food Calories Fat Sugar Kids Eating Out

Eating out is a great way for a family to eat together, and teaches children social skills. It's also a good way to get children to try new tastes and textures, but it can be hard to keep an eye on their food choices. Making a big deal out of food choices can make meal times, including meals out, into a high-pressure time that is full of tension. Don’t forget – eating out is a treat and should be fun and having rich or sweet food sometimes won’t do children any harm. Meals out tend to be higher in calories than meals at home, so keep it as an occasional outing rather than a regular way of eating.

Avoiding Fast Food

Lots of kids (and grown-ups) love junk food, and it’s fine as an occasional treat, but it does tend to be very high in fat, sugar and salt. If possible, pick a café or restaurant that has some healthy food options rather than a fast food chain. If fast food is unavoidable, pick somewhere that has grilled rather than fried food, buy regular rather than large portions and share portions between people. Ask for wholemeal rather than white rolls if they are available, add water, milk, fruit juice or sugar-free drinks rather than sweetened fizzy drinks and milkshakes, and look out for healthy options like salads, sandwiches, wraps and fruit. Be aware that some options that look healthy can be as high in calories as a burger and chips, because of things like full fat mayonnaise, oily salad dressings, and toppings like croutons and bacon bits.

Portion Size

Adult-sized portions are too big for small children, and will either encourage them to over-eat, or end up with wasted food. Rather than picking food from the kid’s menu, which will often be fat - and sugar - heavy and no more exciting than fish fingers or chicken shapes and chips, see if the restaurant will do a half-sized portion, or split one portion between two children (if they can agree on what they want!) Starters tend to be smaller, so could be ordered instead of a main course.

Helping Children to Make Good Food Choices

Children will copy their parents’ food choices, both at home and when out, so consider this when making your own selections from the menu.

Encourage children not to eat too much fried food – so if they are having chips, suggest they have grilled rather than fried chicken, or if they want battered fish, see if they will have a baked potato or new potatoes rather than chips. Share side orders, and make sure that some are fresh vegetables as well as things like chips and onion rings.

Ask the waiters not to put butter on the vegetables before serving, ask for salad dressings to be served separately, and ask for low-fat mayonnaise or fromage frais on baked potatoes rather than butter, cheese or sour cream.

Take a Picnic

Packing a healthy picnic avoids the temptations of menus full of fatty and sweet food, and can be cheaper too!

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