As a LiveWell Mom and staff member, I make a conscious effort to eat together as a family whenever possible and include fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the meals. But let’s face it—there are times when we need to eat out on the way between school and violin lessons or on the weekend during a long errand day. These are not, by any means, special occasions. However, in so many restaurants, the kids’ menu is always the exact same fare: macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, or a cheeseburger, all served with French fries. Even nicer restaurants where I can expect fresh, creative food for my meal panders to kids by serving these uninspired, unhealthy kid meals.
So now all the hard work I’ve done at home is undone when we eat out as part of a busy day. Instead of a cheeseburger and fries now being an occasional treat, it becomes a standard meal every time we eat out.
I’ve gotten around this by talking with my daughter about the delicious and creative meals on the adult menu, and picking one to share with her—since most portions are bigger than I need anyway. When we go out to eat and it truly is a special occasion, she’s free to have the indulgent fried food on the kids menu, including a Shirley Temple (Mom’s not a total bummer all the time).
One program that makes the healthy choice the easy choice is the Smart Meals program. Restaurants like Qdoba, Bombay Bowl, Wahoo’s and many others, mark their healthy menu items with the Smart Meal Seal, which means it is lower in fat, calories, and sodium and includes at least two servings of beans, whole grains, fruits or vegetables. The Colorado Health Department approves the health standards for the program. I love this idea, as it will help me make good choices for both my meal and my daughter’s. There’s even a mobile app to find the 150+ restaurants.
While I know there are plenty of parents who don’t mind their child eating the standard unhealthy restaurant fare, let’s give our kids a little more credit. I’m not saying take all these items off the menu—for some people, their meal out will actually be a special occasion. The common argument to offering healthier kids’ meals is that kids don’t order it and it wastes resources. Here’s a suggestion: how about offering smaller portions of the adult grilled chicken, fish, vegetables, etc… that’s already on the main menu? (and have a 12 and under rule like they have on all kids’ menus). I hope restaurants soon realize that rounding out the kids menu with a few healthy options can be something both Moms and kids like.