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Ages & Stages

More than in previous generations, today's families eat many of their meals away from home, often in fast-food restaurants. On a given day about one fifth of the American population dines at these fast-food eateries. In most cases, they are consuming quickly prepared and uniform meals, convenient and rea­sonably priced, and usually consisting of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fried/ breaded chicken and fish, and French-fried potatoes. These meals tend to be relatively high in calories, salt, total fat, and the percentage of fat calories.

While these items are often called junk food—implying that (like candy and pastries) they have no nutritional value other than calories—that is usually a misnomer, since some fast foods are as nutritious as the food you may cook at home, even though they may be high in fat and calories. For instance, a fast-food hamburger may be prepared with a salt and caloric content similar to other common lunch alternatives, such as a tuna-salad sandwich with mayon­naise or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When eating with your children at a fast-food restaurant, talk with them about the benefits of making lower-fat selections. Encourage them to start their meal with a salad. Many of these restaurants now have salad bars; al­though this is an excellent option, minimize the use of high-calorie dressings and high-fat cheeses. Choose grilled rather than fried foods, thus avoiding items like fried hamburgers, French fries, and deep-fried chicken. If your child finds hamburgers irresistible, order a simple one rather than a double burger with extra dressings. A baked potato, unless it is covered with butter and sour cream, is a good choice now available at some establishments. Also, select low-fat milk or orange juice rather than high-fat milk shakes, and keep creamy sauces to a minimum.

Remember, children learn most from example. Preaching good nutrition is unlikely to be effective in guiding your child's eating habits. Practice balance, variety, and moderation in your own and your family's diet, and your children are likely to follow suit.


Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.