In our busy world, eating out has become a favorite pastime and our kids’ health is suffering as a result. Restaurants are tricky, making it challenging for you to present your kids with healthy options because on the kids’ menu – there usually aren’t any!
When dining out with little ones, parents are usually offered a separate “Kid’s Menu.” This is why most kids grow up believing they are supposed to be eating different food from adults. The brainwashing begins at a very early age.
When was the last time you saw a green veggie offered on a kids’ menu? Restaurants know that children are used to eating sweet, salty, fatty foods (which make them crave more of the same, by the way) and their kids’ menus are designed to cater to this preference. In addition, the portions they are offered are usually way too large!
With a typical kids’ menu of pizza, hamburger, fries, hot dogs, mac ‘n cheese, chicken nuggets and soda or juice, more and more American kids are becoming overfed and undernourished.
Here are some tips from my newest book, The Pizza Trap, on how to get your family back on track and not fall in into “The Kids’ Menu Trap”:
Invoke the “Our Family” motto
Kids do not always have the knowledge or expertise to make healthy choices for themselves, which is why they live at home until they are 18! This includes making choices about food. A five-year-old is usually incapable of making wise nutritional choices, and kids will choose taste over nutrition time and time again. As parents, it’s our job to teach kids the right way to eat.
When my kids complain about what’s on their plate, my answer is always, “In our family this is how we eat.” (Just make sure your own choices are healthy or you will lose all credibility.) Kids look to older siblings and parents as an example. If you don’t practice what you preach, you’ve lost before you’ve even started. This is especially true when it comes to choosing real food over fast food, choosing water over soft drinks and making healthy home- cooked meals during the week.
Get away from the “Supersize Me” mentality
Teach your kids that less is more. I love sharing an entrée with my kids; it saves money and naturally cuts back on large restaurant portions. Serve your child portions appropriate for their age, and don’t eat family style. It encourages over-eating and it’s hard to keep track of how much you have eaten. Remember, their stomach is only the size of a fist!
It’s easy to upgrade the quality of your kids’ menu without a whole lot of complaining from the peanut gallery, whether you’re eating at home or eating out. Good food quality leads to good food flavor, and kids are all about flavor. If a child’s only exposure to veggies is the under ripe tomato slice and limp lettuce on a fast food burger, can you blame him or her for disliking vegetables? Point out the difference to your child and try to make quality choices in what you buy – fresh, real food – and where you choose to eat out.
Skip fried options and go for grilled, choose water or regular milk – no chocolate milk, juice or soft drinks – and choose fruit over fries. When eating at restaurants, always order raw or steamed veggies on the side to balance out their order and to create a Rainbow Plate. Use some Mom Muscle: don’t be a nutritional wimp!
Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about the effect of junk food on their body and don’t be afraid to say no. Talk to your kids. Explain to them what’s happening to people’s health in our country and why. It’s up to us as adults to teach kids how life works, to set boundaries and be the guardrails to set them in the direction of success. Remember, there is nothing with our children that we don’t create, promote or allow.