By Connie Evers MS, RD, LD – Nutrition for Kids
Connie’s Healthy Eating Blog – Putting the Brakes on Drive-Thru Dining
Not only do kids get a lot of calories from fast food, the foods they are most likely to choose provide “empty calories” from fried foods, refined grains and sugary beverages. Nutrient-rich whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk often go missing when families “drive through” instead of dine at home.
According to a recent study, fast food has supplied the biggest increase in calories in kids’ diets over the past 30 years. Children now get more calories from fast food than they do from school meals! It’s time for parents to reconsider their approach to dining out and fast food. Below are some tips to get you started.
1. Set limits
A reasonable goal is to limit fast food to no more than once a week. Older children and teens often eat fast food with friends so discuss a reasonable limit and the importance of making better choices.
2. Know before you go
Many chain restaurants post menu and nutrition information online. Review the menu
choices with your child and agree ahead of time to include healthier items with their meal. For instance, choose low-fat milk instead of soft drinks, apple slices instead of fries or a yogurt parfait in lieu of fried pies or cookies for dessert. At sub shops, choose whole grain rolls or flatbread for sandwiches and load your sandwich with plenty of fresh greens, tomatoes, peppers, onions and other vegetables.
3. Pay attention to portions
Avoid super sized or “value” meals. It’s not a value to your health to eat bigger servings of empty calorie foods.
4. Exercise “condiment control”
A big source of fat as well as sodium comes from mayo, tartar sauce, salad dressings and other high fat sauces. Overdoing the ketchup can also add a lot of extra sodium and sugar to the diet.
5. Strive for balance
Think about your family’s food choices over the course of the entire day. Start with a balanced breakfast, encourage healthy lunch choices and always offer fruits and vegetables as part of snacks. That way, one fast food meal is not going to derail your child’s overall diet.
6. Consider “faster” food at home
Keep ingredients on hand for quick, easy, healthy meals. For instance, stir-fried vegetables with lean meat, chicken, shrimp or beans over brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat couscous can be prepared in under 30 minutes. Whole grain pasta with a marinara sauce, Parmesan and salad is a quick, simple supper solution. Keep healthy “quick grab” foods such as a container of fruit sections, raw sliced vegetables or bagged salad on hand for easy side dishes. Another strategy is to make extra when you prepare favorite soups, stews and other healthy dishes and freeze ahead for later use.
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