Fast food restaurants have permeated every corner of the United States and are probably in the consciousness of nearly every US child. Many TV ads for these eating establishments are targeted specifically at children, and so are the promotional toys and the playgrounds that are part of the restaurant offerings. As a result, millions of kids persuade their parents to line up their cars at the drive-through window several days a week—and in a fast-paced world in which adults and children alike often seem to have too much squeezed into their days, parents are only too happy to give in to the convenience of the local fast-food restaurant from time to time. In fact, 1 of every 10 food dollars is currently spent at fast food establishments, adding up to a collective food bill of more than $34 billion annually. In many families, 40% of the family food budget is spent eating outside of the home.
Yes, it’s possible to make nutritious fast food selections. But let’s face it—there are many more high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie choices, from hamburgers to fries to shakes, often served in kingsize portions that can sabotage your child’s best efforts to control her weight. Fast foods often don’t supply a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals and are frequently very high in salt.
When you do take the kids to a fast-food restaurant, talk with them in advance about making healthier choices. Fast food doesn’t necessarily have to be bad food; good selections may include
A grilled or charbroiled chicken sandwich (without the skin and mayonnaise)
A regular-sized hamburger (not the large one with all the fixings)
A salad with a small amount of salad dressing
A plain baked potato (perhaps topped with vegetables from the salad bar)
Skim or 1% (low-fat) milk or orange juice (rather than a highfat shake or soda)
If your child must have fries, divide a single order among several members of the family. (Some chains now cook their french fries in vegetable oil rather than animal fat.)
Your child may love fast-food fare, and it can seem like the breather you need at the end of an exhausting day. But if you do the math, you might be surprised that fast-food dining is actually pretty expensive. If it costs $20 or $25 to feed a family of 4 at a fast-food restaurant, and if you eat there 3 or 4 times a week, that can take a supersized bite out of the family budget. You need to ask yourself whether you could take that same money and buy more nutritious food for your family. On those days when the family does eat out, avoid fast food and consider splitting portions, which are often too large. It is wise to steer clear of buffets that can tempt everyone to eating too large of portions and second helpings.
One other important suggestion—eat as many of your meals at home as possible. When you or another adult in the home does the cooking, there is more control over what your child eats. Turn those trips to the fast-food restaurant into a once-in-a-while treat, not an everyday outing. When you have the opportunity to sit down for a meal as a family, grab it.