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Health & Parenting

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Healthy Guide to Eating Out

Step 3: Get produce on their plates

Rare is the child who spontaneously orders mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette. In fact, researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that nearly all children and teens (75 to 95 percent) don't get enough veggies, especially dark green or orange varieties, and a quarter of children ages 1 to 8 and three quarters of older children and teens don't get enough fruit. What's more, those who eat fast food frequently get even less than those who do not. "Make produce — not french fries — the side dish of choice with burgers, sandwiches, even pizza," Cassetty says. "Kids need the fiber, the antioxidants, the vitamins and minerals. Vegetables also fill you up for very few calories, so they counter the calorie and fat overload of restaurant food."

For kids who turn up their noses at the usual menu options (salads or cooked broccoli), try these tips:

Look for fun stuff. KFC and Chili's were among the eateries offering corn on the cob. A 51⁄2-inch ear of corn with butter flavor at KFC had 140 calories, almost no sodium, and 4 grams of fiber. "Veggies you can pick up to eat are fun, and they take longer to eat, so your child will fill up on fewer calories," Swinney notes. (Yes, corn is starchy, but it's fiber-rich and lower in calories and fat than fries; just avoid adding extra butter.)

Customize your pizza with several vegetable toppings and half the cheese. You'll cut the fat, and kids could get at least one official vegetable serving in two slices.

Check the adult options if you or your kid doesn't like the veggies on the kids' menu. Red Lobster offers fresh asparagus in season, Chili's has marinated portobello mushrooms, Bob Evans has glazed carrots, and Ruby Tuesday has creamy mashed cauliflower that delivers 5 grams of fiber, among other options. Bonus tip: Let "Why don't you just try it?" be your fallback phrase. Swinney says it takes 10 to 15 exposures to a new food for a kid to really know whether she likes it.

Don't forget about fruit. "Since it's usually raw, there's no added fat or sodium the way there can be with vegetables," Swinney notes. We found apple slices at McDonald's, Burger King, and Subway; mandarin oranges at Wendy's and Chili's; seasonal fresh fruit and cinnamon apples at Denny's; melon wedges at Red Robin; and fruit salad or fruit cup at Chik-fil-A, Così, and Panera Bread — to name just a few.

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