A fast-food meal is quick and convenient, especially when you and your kids are on the go for activities and events, but not all restaurants are created equal, said the coordinator for a local program that provides healthy lifestyle support for children and their families.
“Some establishments offer whole grains, fiber and protein in their meals, but many kids’ meals include minimally nutritious foods,” said Cheri Harrison, a licensed clinical professional counselor and pediatric program coordinator for the Memorial Center for Healthy Families, part of the Memorial Weight Loss and Wellness Center.
While many restaurants have increased efforts over the years to include healthy options in their meals, Harrison said the following tips can help families make healthy choices for their children when eating out.
• Pay attention to sugar content. Restaurants are required to provide nutrition information on the menu. A quick review will help alert you to added sugars in foods. Encourage children to eat foods and consume drinks with fewer added sugars.
• Avoid fried foods. Fried foods increase the calorie content of foods significantly. In some kids’ meals, children will receive more than half of their daily calorie needs, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Choose grilled or baked choices instead.
• Opt for milk or water. Soda and flavored, sweetened beverages have no nutritional value and are unnecessary added sugars.
• Choose whole grains. Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat bread are an important source of nutrients and fiber.
• Request fruits and vegetables. Whenever available, request fruit options without added sugars and add vegetables to your child’s meal. Choose fresh fruit over fruit juice.
“Poor food choices can have serious results including obesity and obesity-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure,” Harrison said. “Helping your children make healthy food choices when they are young will benefit them throughout their lives.”
For more information about the Memorial Center for Health Families, call 217-588-2973 or visit MemorialCenterForHealthyFamilies.com.