Eat This, Not That for Kids

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Eat This, Not That for Kids: What It Is

Eat This, Not That for Kids is not a diet book, but a wake-up call to parents to start feeding their kids healthier foods. After the wildly popular Eat This, Not That book, aimed at helping adults make smarter food choices, authors David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding followed with this sequel.

One of the book's most shocking revelations is just how much fat, calories, sodium, and sugar are lurking in many favorite kids' dishes. Did you know, for example, that the average kid's meal at Outback Steakhouse has 93 grams of fat, or that the healthy-sounding turkey minis and fries kids' meal at Ruby Tuesday’s has 893 calories and 47 grams of fat?

The basic idea behind Eat This, Not That for Kids is that by making simple substitutions for their children's favorite foods, parents can improve their kids' diets. For example:

  • Instead of a Cosi’s Kids pepperoni pizza (911 calories and 43 grams of fat), choose two slices of Papa John’s pepperoni pizza (440 calories) or a grilled cheese sandwich (357 calories).
  • Instead of McDonald's Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips (400 calories, 23 grams fat), order their 8-piece Chicken McNuggets with Apple Dippers and caramel dip (355 calories, 15.5 g fat).
  • Instead of Krispy Kreme's Powdered Cake Donut (290 calories, 14 g fat), opt for four Original Glazed donut holes (200 calories, 11 g fat).
  • Instead of 16 Wheat Thins (140 calories, 6 g fat), give your kids 6 Triscuits (120 calories, 4.5 g. fat).

Eat This, Not That for Kids: How It Works

The heart of Eat This, Not That for Kids is the comparisons for foods commonly found in restaurants, at the grocery store, vending machine, and school cafeteria. Foods on the left side of the page (the "Eat This" side) are recommended over similar foods on the right side (the "Not That" side).

But don’t be misled into thinking that all foods labeled "Not That" should be avoided, or that all the foods on the "Eat This" side are the best choices. The recommendations are often based on what might be called the lesser of two evils. At first glance, this can be confusing -- especially when you see healthy foods like Horizon organic fat-free vanilla yogurt on the "Not That" side of the page.

"We tried to compare apples to apples, so not everything on the 'Eat This' side is meant to beat out everything on the 'Not That' side. So, for example, in the yogurt section, our comparisons are for like yogurts, so we chose the best and worst example of strawberry yogurts," explains co-author Goulding, a former chef and a Men’s Health health and nutrition editor.

In the section on sauces, for example, Classico roasted red pepper Alfredo sauce (120 calories and 10 g fat per 1/2 cup portion) is among the choices on the "Eat This" side; Ragu Light Parmesan Alfredo (280 calories, 20 g fat) is among those on the "Not That" side. Although one sauce is better than the other, neither of these two would likely be recommended by most nutrition professionals.

And it appears some foods were recommended over others simply because the portion size was smaller. For example, a 1-ounce bag of potato chips scores better than a 1.5 ounce bag.

These are some of the reasons why it's important not only to look at the comparisons but to read the text in each chapter.

Each chapter starts with strategies to help parents take charge of their children’s diets. For example, in the supermarket section, parents are encouraged to stick to the perimeter of the store, where less processed foods can be found. And there's a primer to help parents understand label lingo so they can select foods with more whole grains and less sugar.

Other features in this very visual book include an Eat This, Not That food guide pyramid, menu "decoders" to help you understand what's in your child's favorite dishes, and "report cards" for restaurants ranging from Applebee's to Wendy's.

There's also a list of the authors' picks for the 20 worst kid's foods, including:

  • Cosi's 911-calorie kids' pepperoni pizza
  • Baskin-Robbins' 990-calorie Heath shake
  • Denny's Big Dipper Frenchy Funstix, with 770 calories
  • Cap'n Crunch cereal, at 146 calories per cup
  • Oscar Meyer's Maxed Out Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Combo Lunchables, with 680 calories

A menu detailing a week’s worth of kid-friendly weeknight meals will enlighten parents about which weeknight standbys should stay and which should go. For example, the book recommends a meal of meatloaf, roasted asparagus, baked sweet potato and Jell-O over one consisting of chicken casserole, baked potato, roasted asparagus and Italian ice. Also included are 10 kid-friendly recipes made healthier, including macaroni and cheese, pepperoni pizza, nachos, fettuccine Alfredo, and chicken strips with honey mustard.

The book also contains reference charts that detail which nutrients kids need each day, divided by age group and including calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, carbs, fiber, and protein.

Eat This, Not That for Kids: What You Can Eat

Eat This, Not That for Kids includes these eight simple rules for healthy eating:

  1. Never skip breakfast.
  2. Snack mindfully on healthy snacks.
  3. Watch your portion sizes.
  4. Drink water and milk, and fewer sweetened beverages.
  5. Eat more whole, less-processed foods.
  6. Eat meals together as a family.
  7. Kick the sugar habit.
  8. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

The "Eat This, Not That" food pyramid excludes tortillas, pasta, pancakes, anything with partially hydrogenated oil, and heavily sweetened cereals. Yet the rest of the book includes foods with these ingredients, which is confusing. (It's also probably not realistic to exclude so many kid favorites.) For example, Campbell’s Spaghetti-Os, a pasta dish, is on the cover as the preferred choice over Kraft macaroni and cheese.

The book alerts parents about nutrients often missing in kids' diets, such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin E, and fiber, and gives tips on how to fill these nutritional gaps with foods and beverages kids enjoy.

In their "report cards" on 43 restaurant chains, the authors generally gave points for healthy meals that had less than 500 calories, less than 20 grams of fat, and 500-800 milligrams of sodium. They deducted points when the choices were limited and unhealthy.

Only 11 chains scored a 'B' or higher, and 6 flunked for their kids' offerings. But even for the restaurants rated "F," the authors offer survival strategies that sometimes include foods from the adult menu.

Chick-fil-A earned the award for America’s healthiest chain restaurant for kids; Subway and Wendy's also got A's. Other winners included:

  • Arby's
  • Boston Market
  • Denny's
  • Jamba Juice
  • Panera Bread
  • McDonald's
  • KFC
  • Fazoli's

Chains that flunked include:

  • Applebee’s
  • IHOP
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Olive Garden
  • Red Lobster
  • TGI Friday’s

Eat This, Not That for Kids: What the Experts Say

Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler, applauds Eat This, Not That for Kids for providing solid nutrition information, including the shocking nutritional statistics for some kids' foods.

"I wish we didn’t need a book like this," she says, noting that if you need to carry around a book to figure out which meals to choose, chances are you're eating too many fast food meals.

"It’s a snapshot of what most kids are eating, and while not exhaustive, parents can use the nutrition facts to learn more about the nutritional goodness of eating whole foods over processed and fast foods," Ward says.

Ward said she had a few concerns about the "Eat This, Not That" recommendations. For example, the book lists Yobaby peach yogurt as having 13 grams of sugar per 4-ounce portion, but this number includes 6 grams of naturally occurring lactose (milk sugar). Instead, she says, the listing should specify that there are 7 grams of added sugar.

“Lumping lactose with added sugar makes foods like Yobaby peach yogurt look like it is high in sugar, which is confusing to parents and technically incorrect," she says.

Ward also says it's inconsistent for the authors to leave so many common processed foods out of the food pyramid, "and then promote the consumption of processed foods as the lesser of two evils throughout the book."

Ward's own advice to parents looking to feed their kids a healthier diet: Prepare more meals at home, where you control the ingredients.

"It is easy to whip up healthy meals in minutes at home, which can be much more nutritious and less expensive than many fast foods," she says.

Eat This, Not That for Kids: Food for Thought

Eat This Not That for Kids contains a wealth of solid nutrition information -- as long as you read the fine print and don’t just rely on the pictures. The small book is easy to tote around for quick reference at restaurants, vending machines, and the supermarket.

But remember, a better choice does not necessary equal a healthy choice. The only way to get the whole picture is to carefully check the fat, calories, sodium, and sugar numbers for the foods you feed your kids.

Show Sources


Matt Goulding, health and nutrition editor, Men’s Health; co-author, Eat This, Not That and Eat This, Not That for Kids.

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler.

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