Healthy Guide to Eating Out
Family restaurants are a minefield of high-fat, high-calorie options. But Good Housekeeping has created a road map for finding nutritious food your kids will actually eat.
By Sari Harrar
It's a modern-day Norman Rockwell moment: After a hectic day, the family hops in the car and heads to a favorite neighborhood restaurant — no cooking required, no dishes to be done, just a welcome opportunity to get out of the house and share a meal.
But what's served up at many restaurants could make you lose your appetite. The meals that are specially designed for kids can be some of the worst nutrition deals to be found: At Chili's, a child's Pepper Pals Little Chicken Crispers plus a side of Pepper Pals Homestyle Fries has a whopping 57 grams of fat — that's 6 grams above the recommended daily allowance for an 8-year-old. At Ruby Tuesday, a meal of Kids' Minis (burgers and fries) weighs in at a jaw-dropping 917 calories, 71 percent of the 1,290 calories a child age 4 to 8 should eat in a day. A 2008 analysis of 1,474 kids' meals from national chain restaurants found 93 percent had more calories and 45 percent had more saturated fat and trans fats than kids need. That kind of eating sets the stage for obesity, says Margo G. Wootan, D.Sc., nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a watchdog group based in Washington, DC; Wootan led the research.
Restaurant and fast-food meals are a major contributor to the excess fat, sugar, calories, and blood pressure — raising sodium in kids' diets, other studies show. Equally troubling is what kids' meals don't deliver — fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and bone-building calcium. In one University of Minnesota Project EAT study of seventh through 12th graders, for example, those who ate fast food three or more times per week got about 25 percent less produce and about 21 percent less milk than those who didn't eat any fast food. And in a Children's Hospital Boston study of 6,212 kids ages 4 to 19, consumption of produce, fiber, and milk decreased significantly on days when the kids had fast food. "Combined with the overload of saturated fat, sodium, and calories, these nutrition gaps raise kids' risk for developing serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes — which are showing up in teens and even younger kids in increasing numbers," says Samantha B. Cassetty, M.S., R.D., nutrition director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute.