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Health & Parenting

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Healthy Guide to Eating Out

Step 5: Orchestrate Their Orders

It is, of course, much easier to order for little kids (or at least steer their choices) than it is to convince a teenager that what he really wants is a nice chopped salad and some milk versus a chili-cheeseburger and a bottomless glass of root beer. But it can be done, if you know how to guide a tween's or teen's choices:

Walk the talk. Order first — before your kids do — and order wisely, suggests Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota and author of I'm, Like, SO Fat!: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World. "If you order salad, your kids will be more likely to do so," she notes. "It sets the tone."

Steer tweens around the menu. Laura Plunkett, 45, a mom of two teens in Marblehead, MA, took control by reading through the menu and suggesting choices to her kids when they were preteens. "We kept it positive," Laura says. "We'd say things like, 'The kids' menu doesn't have good options today' and 'Here are items that look good from the regular menu.' That really helped guide their choices."

Don't dictate to teens. "Telling teens what to order or criticizing a choice they've made is counterproductive," says Anne Fletcher, R.D., author of Weight Loss Confidential: How Teens Lose Weight and Keep It Off — and What They Wish Parents Knew. "They're going to exercise independence in a restaurant. One thing that's worked is to suggest sharing things to minimize the damage — 'Why don't you share the fries?' or 'Let's split that milkshake.'"

Arm them with info. "People don't give teens enough credit for caring about healthy food," says Sage Farrar, who teaches kids about nutrition as a HealthCorps coordinator at Miami Coral Park Senior High School in Miami. "They crave information and they can be trusted to do the right thing. Compare food labels together, talk about the fat and calories in fast food (say, compare grilled chicken with extra crispy and ask why they think there's such a big difference). Tell them that eating healthy will help fill them up and give them energy. You'll make a lot more progress that way than if you try to mandate what they should or shouldn't eat." Says Fletcher: "Think about things that might motivate them: Tell them that they'll also get stronger faster, look better, do better in school and in sports, and have more energy. They listen much more than you think." And that's a fact you should work to your advantage — for their health's sake.

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