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Health & Parenting

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Healthy Guide to Eating Out


Given that American kids now get more than 30 percent of their daily calories from foods consumed away from home, these fat- and calorie-laden meals are more worrisome than ever before. And in a down economy, the quest for healthy restaurant meals is even more important: Surveys show that most Americans continue to eat out at least once a week, but to save money, they're choosing fast food more often. "Every meal matters," says Bridget Swinney, R.D., author of Healthy Food for Healthy Kids. "If you eat out more than once or twice a month, it's important to steer your kids to healthier choices for their health and their weight — and so they'll learn, in their formative years, how to navigate a restaurant menu successfully."

Getting your kids to eat well when they eat out requires some education, planning, and patience. To help you, Good Housekeeping analyzed nutrition information from dozens of the nation's top fast-food, pizza, and casual-dining chains. We polled top pediatric and adolescent nutrition experts, as well as parents of young children, tweens, and teens, for their best success tactics. Here we'll show how to put healthier fare in front of your kids and actually get them to eat it.

Step 1: Know before you go.

Opt for a sit-down restaurant. You should make fast food your very last resort, and here's why: In a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study that tracked more than 3,000 young adults for three years, each additional fast-food meal per week increased weight by a couple of pounds. But adding an extra restaurant meal didn't — presumably because larger menus offer healthier options and smaller portions. So pick casual restaurants, even your local diner, over fast-food places. "In a fast-food restaurant, everything — the signs, the aromas, the meal packaging — is designed to push the big fries, burgers, and sodas," says Harvard Medical School pediatrician David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children's Hospital Boston. "It's very difficult to get a salad or fruit instead of a burger and fries and feel satisfied."

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