Mar 1, 2017

You can choose healthier options when eating out If you are like many parents, you know it’s impossible to find the time to cook meals at home every day. Registered Dietitians at Children’s Health℠ offer up seven easy tips on making smarter, healthier choices when the only choice is eating out.

Although a home cooked meal is almost always healthier than eating meals from restaurants, sometimes it can be difficult for parents to dedicate the time it takes to cook meals at home. Check out these tips for making the smartest choice possible when faced with a fast-food menu.   

  1. Know before you go! Look at the nutrition facts menu online and plan your meal. Look for food items that are lower in calories, saturated fat, and sugar.
  2. Grilled over fried; chicken over beef; mustard over mayonnaise. Choosing meals that are grilled, boiled, steamed and baked contain less saturated fat than breaded, fried. Lower fat meats include chicken breast, turkey breast and fish. Two tablespoons of mustard have 0 grams of fat while mayonnaise has over 20 grams of fat!
  3. Surprise! Not all salads are healthy. Salads can be one of the best options, if they are full of mostly veggies, fruit and low-fat meat. Avoid choosing salads that include cheese, bacon, tortilla chips or croutons. Ask for a “light” dressing or vinaigrette dressing and ask for it on the side.
  4. Size matters. A single regular size meal may contain more calories than your child needs. Order a kid’s meal when available or share meals with other family members.
  5. Swap your sides – no more fries!  More restaurants are now providing healthier side options including a small salad, a fruit, applesauce, low-fat yogurt, baked potato or baked chips.
  6. Rethink your drink. Soda, fruit punch, lemonade, chocolate milk and juice (even 100% fruit juice) are full of sugar and provide little nutrition to our bodies. Choose water, low-fat milk or unsweetened tea. Carry sugar-free flavoring packets such as Crystal Light in your car to add flavor to your water if wanted.
  7. What’s your tummy saying? Encourage your child to listen to their hunger and fullness signals. If they are satisfied, they can always save their food for later – do not force your child to finish their food.

Is your child a picky eater? Check out these easy tips for introducing new foods and expanding your family’s nutritional horizons

At-a glance: Your best bets for fast food alternatives

         Choose this…       Not this…
Burger Chains
  • Regular, single-patty hamburger OR grilled chicken sandwich on whole grain bread with mustard and vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles)
  • 1 healthy side: Small salad, fruit cup or fruit slices, applesauce, low-fat yogurt, baked potato or baked chips.
  • Double patties, cheese, bacon, special sauces and mayonnaise Breaded, crispy chicken sandwiches
  • French Fries, regular chips
Sandwich Chains
  • Six-inch sandwich bread
  • Whole-grain or whole-wheat bread
  • Lean meat (turkey, roast beef or chicken breast) and/or veggies
  • Mustard or vinaigrette
  • Foot-long or large sandwiches – unless you’re sharing!
  • White bread, cheese breads
  • Tuna salad (full of mayonnaise), bacon, meatballs or steak Mayonnaise, Ranch, Caesar dressing or other creamy dressings
Mexican Food Chains
  • Grilled chicken on a soft corn tortilla or salad
  • Black beans
  • Salsa
  • Crispy tacos
  • Refried beans
  • Cheese dip

Tips provided by Melissa Alanis, RD, LD. Learn more about the Clinical Nutrition and Get Up & Go programs at Children’s Health.

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