9 Ways To Make Fast Food Healthier For Your Kids

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9 Ways to Make Fast Food Healthier for Your Kids
Ways To Make Fast Food Healthier For Your Kids. Graphic © herbshealthhappiness.com. photo – Unsplash (PD)

If you raise children or are in charge of cooking your family’s meals, you will know how difficult it is to plan and cook healthy food 24/7. Especially for people who also work side by side with caring for a family, fast food or junk food is often their last resort. However, there are a few ways you can look into to help your kids eat healthier – ten ways to be exact!

1. Packs Snacks In Advance

One of the worst ways to introduce unhealthy eating habits to your kids is to feed them unhealthy snacks when you’re out and about. If you don’t plan ahead or prepare home-made snacks, chances are you will be forced to purchase fast food or junk food to give to your child if they get hungry. If you have an upcoming day out with your child, be sure to pack healthier snack options in advance. Cut up fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, and carrots are a great alternative to sweets and chips. If you have more time, you can make finger sandwiches for your child to eat at lunch or snack time.

The importance of healthy snacking was seen in an evaluation of a program designed to fight childhood obesity. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 school-age children are affected by obesity in the United States. Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) in the United Kingdom found an increase from 37% to 39% in cases of obesity among school-age children. The program aimed to supply kids with system-wide healthier snacks which were lower in sugar and higher in fiber, such as whole grain cereals and bread and low-fat yogurt. The results of the program were positive after 3 years of follow up, with improvements in both weight and fitness among the children. [1][2]

2. Kid-Sized Meals

If you do decide to eat out, make sure to check the menu for kid-portions or kid-sized meals. Most restaurants will often have portions sized especially towards kids, and this is a better option that ordering regular-sized meals geared towards adults, which have more calories and bigger servings than what a child needs. Kids meals are typically smaller and designed for the dietary needs of a child. Even if your child can easily polish off a regular sized burger or pasta dish, opt for a kid’s meal instead. Regular portions for adults can increase your child’s risk for obesity, and in-turn hypertension and diabetes. [3]

3. Fruits Over Fries

Aside from packing cut up fruits and vegetables your child, try to select either fruits or vegetables as a side when ordering out. In some fast food and family restaurants, fruits, vegetable salad, and even low-fat yogurt are options for sides. Choose these over fries instead!

4. Sharing Meals With Your Kids

Sharing meals is a good way to cut on portion size for both yourself and your child. This is an option for parents and caregivers who wish to introduce fast food to their kids, as well as parents who have children who won’t eat anything from the kid’s menu. It is a fact that your child will be exposed to fast food no matter how healthy they eat at home, so one of the best options is to introduce them to fast food yourself but in moderation. The same goes for desserts like milkshakes and cake; share a portion with your child instead letting them finish an entire serving themselves.

5. No To Soda

In the United States, the CDC reports nearly 30 million people living with diabetes, both diagnosed or undiagnosed. Among these, more than 200,000 people under the age of 20 are diagnosed diabetics. The CDC also found that rates increased by 1.8 percent each year for type 1 diabetes and 4.8 percent each year for type 2 diabetes among American youth aged 0 to 19 years old. [4]

One of the contributing factors to diabetes is an unhealthy diet high in sugar, specifically the intake for SSBs or sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda. In 2010, a review of published studies found that higher consumption of SSBs contributed to the development of metabolic syndromes such as type 2 diabetes. But soda isn’t the only culprit, drinks such as fruit, energy, and vitamin water drinks are other examples of SSBs that can contribute to weight gain and diabetes. [5]

Instead of soda and processed fruit drinks, opt for freshly-squeezed juice without added sugar. Unflavored milk or plain water are other healthier options. However, since fresh juice is also a source of fructose, a type of sugar, it should also be taken in moderation. Juice guidelines published by the American Academy for Pediatrics limit 4 ounces juice for toddlers aged 1 to 3 years, 4 to 6 ounces of juice for children aged 4 to 6 years old, and 8 ounces for children aged 7 to 18 years old. [6]

6. Set Expectations Or Rules

Another tip for eating out with your kids is to set expectations or rules beforehand. If you are going to allow your children to order for themselves, be sure to tell them in advance if you don’t want them ordering fries or want them to include fruits or vegetables in their order. Children can get frustrated from hearing “no”, so be sure to set limits instead of not allowing them to order certain food items on the spot. This tip can used to avoid tantrums from your child.

7. Shared Meal Time

One of the most important tips on this list is to have set meal times with your kids. This allows children to develop healthy eating habits like eating on time, which helps curb unnecessary snacking and reduce the risk for weight gain. Stanford Children’s Health encourages families to have meal times together in order to help manage their weight more effectively as well as improve communication and overall mental and emotional health within the family. You can also allow children to help with the preparation of meals, which can improve their interest in eating healthy in the long run. [7]

8. Healthy Habits For Teens

Children are one thing and teenagers are another. Teaching teenagers healthy eating habits can be difficult, since they are more independent than children and can easily eat fast food and junk food without parental supervision. A tip is to offer various options to your teenagers when ordering or buying food, instead of forcing them to choose one specific food item. Giving your teenager the freedom to choose from a pool of healthy options can improve their own eating habits instead of fostering discontent and rebellion.

9. Role Modeling

The most important tip on this list is to be a good role model to your kids. If you force your child to eat healthy but make unhealthy food choices yourself, it sends the wrong message to your child, especially if your child sees you eating food that you don’t allow them too – this can also foster resentment. When a parent has a healthy diet, it can influence your child to eat healthier themselves, since they view you as their role model or inspiration.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Choose My Plate program stresses the importance of being a good role model for healthy eating habits in children. Trying various healthy food options encourage your children to make healthy options as well; this makes planning meals easier with the help of your kids. You can allow your child to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Children are also more likely to eat food that they helped plan and make. [8]

References:

[1] Chomitz, V., et. al. (2012). Healthy Living Cambridge Kids: A Community‐based Participatory Effort to Promote Healthy Weight and Fitness. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1038/oby.2009.431

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood obesity facts. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm

[3] American Academy of Pediatrics. Portions and Serving Sizes. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Portions-and-Serving-Sizes.aspx

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of new diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes on the rise among children, teens. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/rates-new-diagnosed-cases-type-1-type-2-diabetes-rise-among-children-teens

[5] Malik, V., et. al. (2010). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/11/2477

[6] Heyman, M., et. al. (2017). Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/139/6/e20170967

[7] Stanford Children’s Health. Why the Family Meal Is Important. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=why-the-family-meal-is-important-1-701

[8] US Department of Agriculture. 10 Tips: Be A Healthy Role Model for Children. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ten-tips-be-a-healthy-role-model

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