Michelle Mirizzi, MS, Registered Dietitian
As a parent, you have a strong influence over how much fast food your child eats. Find out how to set some guidelines to follow when eating out that will teach them how to make healthy choices as adults.
In the ‘olden days’ there were no video games or televisions. People ate all their meals at home or sometimes at another family’s home. All the food was prepared from scratch and a lot was home grown. Most families would only go out to eat if it was a very special occasion. Times have changed and now we are often referred to as the ‘fast food nation.’ Everyday, one out of every four children eat fast food and nearly half of all of us eat fast food more than once a week. We do this primarily because of convenience and because it’s less expensive than going to a restaurant. Let’s face it, children love fast food meals because it comes in a colorful box, it’s served quickly and, most importantly, it comes with a toy!
Fast food chains spend a huge amount of money on marketing to get the attention of children. They know that most people form their eating habits as children so they try to shape these ‘future customers’ as best as they can. They spend so much money on marketing to children that according to Eric Schlosser, author of the book “Fast Food Nation”, 96% of children can identify Ronald McDonald. The only other fictional character that is better identified by children is Santa Claus!
Why do we as parents visit these places? Well, our lives are more hectic than ever between school, sports, work and friends. Who has time to think about what to eat? The good news is that you can still enjoy an occasional meal from fast food restaurants by learning how to make smart choices. As a parent, you have a strong influence over how much your child eats. Setting some guidelines to follow when eating out will teach them how to make healthy choices as adults.
There are some tricks that can help make any fast food meal better for you and your family. Follow these tips to cut down on fat, sodium, sugar, overall calories and make your meal healthier:
What Can Parents Do?
By learning how the food is prepared, you will be able to make healthier choices ordering from a menu:
Over the last few years, many chain restaurants have been adding healthier menu options. They also started providing nutrition information for all the foods on the menu, but you usually need to ask for it. Try checking their website as well for additional information.
Hamburger fast food restaurants are the most popular with children. However, other options are available such as Asian food, sandwiches, or Mexican grills. Keep in mind that every fast food restaurant has both healthy and less-healthy choices. Here are some pointers to remember that can help you make better choices when eating out at various fast food places:
It’s OK to enjoy fast food once in a while, but try to limit the visits to no more than twice a month. An average meal at a fast food restaurant has around 1000 calories and does not have the vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients that your child needs to grow healthy and strong. While fast food consumption has greatly increased over the years there are several contributing factors why childhood obesity is becoming more and more prevalent. While all the above information is important, we need to keep things in perspective by understanding that the weight epidemic in this country is because of how much food children eat, rather than what food children eat.
If your family is going to have fast food for one meal, just make sure the other meals that day contain healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. Perhaps you could take an afternoon with your child and prepare a few homemade meals in advance that can be served quickly to avoid the temptation of getting fast food too often while at the same time teaching them some simple food preparation steps. Either way, just remember, it is not that difficult to eat healthy even when you don’t have much time.
This family wellness article is provided by Nourish Interactive, visit www.nourishinteractive.com for nutrition articles, family wellness tips, free children's healthy games, and tools. Available in English and Spanish.
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