Kids yelling, tossing chicken tenders, and begging for dessert; we’ve all seen this nightmarish scene in our local restaurant. In fact, many people completely avoid dining out with young children because it feels like too much work. Plus, kids don’t typically request the healthiest restaurant options so you have to wonder – is it even worth bringing the kids along?
The truth is, much of our food dollar is being spent at restaurants today. Eating out is a cultural reality that can and should be a pleasant experience for everyone. Instead of fearing the dreaded tantrum or unhealthy food, view dining out as a great opportunity to teach kids good manners and good nutrition.
With these seven simple tips and ideas, bringing the family out to eat can be a healthy, relaxing, and memorable experience.
- Set boundaries first. With young kids who are new to dining out, explain that restaurants are a place where they need to use indoor voices and be polite. Get them excited about the delicious food they’ll be trying, and remind them that eating at adult restaurants is a privilege.
- Keep kids occupied. If kids are restless before dinner, don’t feel guilty about giving them a game to keep them busy, just make it educational! Check out the new Super Crew FoodLeap app, featuring healthy colorful foods from the National Restaurant Association and SuperKids Nutrition Inc.! It’s a great way to teach kids that healthy eating is fun and delicious – and might make them more likely to eat their veggies during the meal. You can download the free app on iPhones and iPads through the Apple app store.
- Give them healthful restaurant options. There are many restaurants serving up better-for-you menu items. Expose your children to the right influences from an early age so that they know what types of restaurants to look out for when they’re on their own. By giving them options, you’re still empowering them with their choice while teaching them how to identify nutritious options. Check out a list of restaurants with healthier menus for kids by downloading the free Kids LiveWell app.
- Go for the doggie bag. Don’t be afraid to take home a doggie bag! Ask for a take home box at the beginning or end of the meal. Some people find that portioning out half to take home at the beginning of the meal helps with their self-control. Either way, it shows the family that it’s OK not to finish your meal and save it for a tasty lunch tomorrow.
- Celebrate Healthy Fare. More and more restaurants are placing healthy food at the center of the plate. Find a spot in your area that prides itself on serving fresh, seasonal, plant-based, healthy, or farm-to-table cuisine. Encourage your kids to try a meatless meal when dining out, and aim for 2-3 meatless meals a week. Use the healthy protein tracker to meet your family’s goal. The whole family will enjoy the nourishing and beautifully plated options.
- Split the banana split. If you’re craving something sweet, have the family split a dessert, instead of everyone ordering their own.
- Side with Salad. Even the most indulgent options can be made lighter with a side of salad or veggies. Going out for pizza? Just get one pie and order a big Italian salad to share with dressing on the side. Is chicken lo mein the family favorite? Order it with extra veggies or with steamed veggies on the side. This will help you fill up without the extra calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. See these healthy dining out tips.
With these simple tips, you can turn your next restaurant trip to a healthy and positive experience for the whole family.
Melissa Halas-Liang is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with a masters in nutrition education. She is founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. where she is “saving the world, one healthy food at a time.” Read more about her Super Crew characters and visit her site www.superkidsnutriton.com. Then discover how nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her on-line courses and blog, Melissa’s Healthy Living.
Melissa is AICR’s partner in AICR’s Healthy Kids Today – Prevent Cancer Tomorrow campaign.