Eating Out Healthfully With Your Toddler

by added on 3 February 2015, Comments Off on Eating Out Healthfully With Your Toddler , posted in Blog

By Sarah Klippel, Toddler PM Coordinator


Eating out has always been a family thing. It is a time to meet with family and friends and bond over the experience of a shared meal. Of course, the home meal is a time for this as well, but there is something exciting about tasting the flavors that another has put together. Or maybe it’s just the lack of dishes afterwards. Either way, I was excited and determined to keep this tradition intact as our family expanded.


At first, things were quite simple – our son slept in his carseat carrier, we ate. As he got older it became slightly more involved, he would sit in my arms and we would have to bring food for him as a new-to-solids eater, but still, things were generally calm. Fast forward to today – wiggly, needing constant entertainment, wants the pepper to dump on the table, now the salt, now the sugar packets, needs a drink, hah – just a ploy to dump ice all over the table, meltdown because the straw can’t be both in the cup and out of it at the same time. I actually, most of the time, love it.


Here’s what I don’t love – the kids menu. Have you looked at it? In case you haven’t seen one recently, or can’t recall it at the moment, let me give you a basic idea of every kids menu:


  • Hamburger and fries
  • Grilled cheese and fries
  • Mac and cheese
  • Chicken fingers and fries
  • Butter noodles with cheese


Some of these have a “healthy” vegetable option and come with a drink option – milk or juice or soda. Um, anyone else still wonder why we have an adult obesity problem in America? This is what we are teaching our children to consider standard fare from a very young age? Now, I don’t want to throw every establishment under the bus – there are many that have these listed and maybe one healthy option (my son had a mini grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and green beans plate last night), but still – what sort of message are we sending to our kids and, perhaps more importantly, what are we telling our parents that they should be feeding children?


I get it, kids are picky. Sometimes they only want cheese or things covered in cheese – and who I am to argue, I mean, cheese is delicious – but how are we to know what else they might be starting to like if they are never given the option? Especially when my son is able to order for himself – who is going to pick grilled chicken and steamed vegetables over macaroni and cheese? My willpower doesn’t even hold up easily with those options, how do I expect his to?


So, what to do? I will ask for the kids menu just to give it a once over. I have found some restaurants are more savvy with their options – like the salmon meal – and, if those are on there, it’s usually a much better deal than my other options for picking out healthy food for my child. Otherwise, I really feel I have two options. First, I can order something huge for myself and then split off a bunch for my son, which works a lot of the time, provided I feel he will eat what I want – or is able to eat it, he’s still working on teeth.

If I don’t do that, then I go to option two: side orders. Lots of them. Yup – if they have it on or in a dish, you can probably get it as a side. Examples: side of rice, side of grilled chicken, side of veggies, side of pulled pork, side of quinoa, side of fruit, side of eggs at breakfast, etc. It’s inexpensive (usually), easy, and so much healthier than what is on the standard kid’s menu.


Truthfully though, I think the best solution is not really a solution on the restaurant’s side of things at all. It’s at home. Healthy eating habits start at home with the parents’ example leading the way. If you eat a variety of whole foods at home, your child will grow up thinking that is the norm and the junk is the exception. With consistent rounded meals at home, the kids menu starts to look like less of an issue, and more of a special time when fries can be consumed gleefully, each one happily dipped in ketchup five or six times, at minimum.

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