Healthier fast food starts at home. Do your best to pack a meal or snack instead of stopping for fast food. Eating before leaving home is also important. Vacations and road trips are high risk occasions for increased fast food intake. Try to help your child prefer to eat at home rather than out by preparing healthy meals and snacks your child enjoys. A favorite home meal always trumps fast food choices.
Food and portion choice are two other important skills. Portion control and food choice are best taught at home and not when you are at the fast food restaurant. Teach your child that self-control is overrated. It is best to avoid calorie rich and unhealthy food both at home and when you are out. Eating should never be for comfort or distraction. Mindless eating is never healthy.
Make eating a social event rather than an escape or comfort event. Eating healthy is a key component of a healthy lifestyle and when paired with stress reduction, adequate sleep and an active lifestyle it leads to a long and healthy life. By decreasing sedentary time and helping your child stay active you will be making exercise an actual meal portion and reduce excess calorie intake risk.
How can you lower your child’s risk? Downsize food portions and beware of cheese, condiments and side dishes. Skip the fries and choose fruit or nonfat yogurt as a side order. Choose baked or grilled chicken and avoid chicken nuggets that are high in fat and are imposters of real chicken. Avoid liquid calories by choosing water and only drink low fat milk. Lastly, choose fruit and leave the chips and cookies behind.
Compliance with healthy dietary rules is essential. Choosing a children’s meal with healthy substitutions allows your child to participate in food choice. Never ban sweets entirely since this decreases compliance and often increases behavior issues.
Healthy children’s meal alternatives include: Kraft macaroni and cheese with apple slices and bottled water at Arby’s (205 calories). Veggie or turkey breast delight (without cheese) on whole wheat with apple slices and fruit juice at Subway (285 calories). Chicken nuggets (4) with sweet and sour sauce and apple slices and unsweetened iced tea at Burger King (265 calories); Grilled chicken nuggets (4) with barbecue sauce and fruit cup and low fat milk at Chick-fil-A (260 calories); Chicken drumstick with green beans and low fat milk and string cheese at KFC (365 calories); Chicken McNuggets (4) with barbecue sauce and a double portion of apple slices and low fat milk at McDonald’s (370 calories); Hamburger with apple slices and low fat milk at Wendy’s (380 calories).
For teenagers choose a fajita with grilled chicken and vegetables or baked or grilled chicken instead of breaded chicken or macaroni. Always leave off the cheese. Order a baked potato instead of French fries and leave off the fat laden trimmings. When in doubt always order a salad with grilled chicken and low fat or fat free dressing. Order non-fat yogurt with fresh fruit instead of dessert or cereal and consider a fruit smoothie instead of a regular milkshake.
Limiting fast food visits and following these guidelines will help your child eat healthier.