Tips to help your child eat right at fast food restaurants

Girl eating hamburger

It’s no secret that the consumer’s drive to eat right, even when on the go, has caught the attention of the fast-food industry. McDonald’s for example, has been tinkering with lighter menu options for years to shun its old burger joint image, and its competitors have all found ways to add salads, yogurt and fruits to their menus too.

Touting fresh ingredients is another image shifter for fast-food restaurants. Chipotle has used hormone-free meats for years. Panera Bread recently announced a drive to eliminate artificial ingredients from its entire menu and even Subway has done away with additives in its bread. But while there has been considerable progress when it comes to finding healthy options as fast food restaurants, there are still plenty of pitfalls to watch for.

As parents juggle their kids’ busy schedules, the drive-thru of fast food stop is sometimes unavoidable. Whether you’re scratching your head at a burger stop or scanning options at Panera, here are some tips to empower parents and kids to make the best choices possible.

Fries the limit, calorie guides

Ordering that burger is not a terrible decision. While many hamburgers are high in fat, they are also high in protein. That said, if you can swap out the fries or onion rings for fresh fruit, a salad, apple slices or other vegetable and fruit options, you’ll be better off.

You don’t want to be too restrictive with kids by telling them certain foods are 100 percent off limits. You just want to help them make good choices like fruits and vegetables and have them minimize the chips, cookies and processed foods.

It might be helpful to reference the myplate.gov model, which encourages half a meal to be made up of fruits and vegetables.

Many restaurants reveal calorie counts for menu items, so that can be a good starting point to trim calories and educate yourself. Seeing how many calories are cute when replacing mayonnaise with mustard and removing bacon from a burger is great knowledge any restaurant patron can apply for future situations.

Bag it, drink smart

Portion control is critical to healthy eating, and it’s no secret that many fast food menu items pack enough calories for two meals. It might be helpful to get a to-go box or bag before starting a meal so that you are not tempted to finish the entire meal.

And getting it right on the food front means nothing is you’re choosing high-calorie drinks with a meal. Believe it or not, many people actually drink their calories. It is always a good idea to stay away from those high-sugar drinks and get that bottle of water instead.

Dress right

Some don’t want to play the game of trimming that Whopper down to a Whopper Jr. and have no interest in swapping out beef for a turkey burger patty. The good news is that many fast food restaurants have a lot of tasty salads available – but watch the dressing and condiments.

Think: bacon bits or cheese, not both; lean meats are fine, but watch the croutons, and dressing is a common trip up. Stick to light or low-calorie options. It is all about balance.

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