The Kids’ Menu May Not Be So Kid-Friendly After All

A recent article hit our news feeds this last week highlighting the need to pay closer attention to our children’s plates when dining out. The research team called restaurateurs to action and encouraged a revamp of children’s menus at favored chains to provide entrees, sides, desserts and beverages that fall in-line with a child’s energy needs versus their desires. These modifications would allow youth the opportunity to select any item from the children’s menu and award parents the satisfaction that their child would not be exceeding their needs. But, as it stands children’s menus are not so kid-friendly when it comes to providing age-appropriate portions.

This issue would be trivial if dining out were a special occasion, but that is not so. Today, over one-third of our daily calories are spent away from home along with over 50% of our food dollars. Since the prevalence of eating outside of the home is more frequent, dining out behaviors have the potential to influence a family’s overall health and contribute overweight, obesity and chronic disease in our youngsters. Until restaurants respond to this public health call to action, families have to be on-guard and mindful of their choices when dining out.

Families can make dining out a healthful experience by:

Encourage children to order from their menu

Most restaurants try to provide more age-appropriate portions on the children’s menu so that menu is the best place to start. If healthful options are hard to find on the kids menu, know that you will need to reduce the adult portions by one-half or more.

Practice the plate method

Ask your child to select a meal that has at least three of the five food groups, ideally protein, whole grain or potato and vegetables. Redistribute the meal when it arrives to reflect the MyPlate diagram. If there’s extra, tuck it away in a take-home container.

Forego sweet drinks

Skip the sugar-sweetened beverages and enjoy still or sparkling water or unflavored milk. Sweetened drinks can pack in 6 to 9 teaspoons of added sugar which is 2 to 3 times their daily allowance.

Make dessert a family occasion

If your family likes to indulge in a sweet treat when dining out, consider ordering one dessert and splitting it.

Portion sizes

Portion sizes inside and outside of the home remain a major catalyst of the perpetual childhood obesity epidemic and a parent’s desire and willingness to monitor their children’s food choices when dining out remains a significant challenge in America. However, modifications that would make portions age-appropriate and guidance from parents when dining out could both make a major impact. This responsibility cannot fall on the child because most children under the age of 12 years do not have the cognitive or developmental capacity to limit their portions when over served. Additionally, satiety cues- often not recognized or easily over-ridden- are not strong enough to guide a child to healthful choices when dining out.

So, gear up before dining out and approach this effort as a team