Dining out with your kids can be a treat, especially for an overworked mom. But how certain are you that you can trust the menu options given to children? Is there a better way to dine? Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., nutrition expert and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler helps us navigate the murky waters of kid cuisine.
When it comes to decoding the nutritional value of restaurant fare, the key is to find a restaurant that is open to your questions and is willing to make substitutions. Ward recommends skipping the soda in lieu of milk and fries in favor of a baked potato or fruit. Menu descriptions can also give parents the clues they need to solve the nutrition mystery. Avoid items that contain the words "basted (unless in juice), batter-dipped, buttery, creamy, crispy, deep fried, grande, pan-fried, Parmesan, supreme and supersize." Possible healthy alternatives may be described as "stir-fried, grilled, baked, or thin-crust (when it comes to pizza)."
You may find your most kid-friendly choices off of the kids menu. Be creative with your ordering, opting for two small appetizers or healthy sides (chicken satay and a salad, for instance) instead of an entrée. Picking a leaner item from the adult menu and pairing it with fresh fruit or a side of green beans can provide a more nourishing dining experience and a chance to expand a child’s palette. Plate splitting is still a very solid way for everyone to get what they want—either between two children or between a parent and their child.
Ward also stresses the importance of enjoying the dining experience and making it a healthy part of your child’s development. "Encourage children to try new cuisines but don't overwhelm them. Your child may be a creature of habit that needs to be more adventurous. Take them to a Thai place, but try to order familiar foods to ease them into it - chicken and noodles, let's say. Next time, they may branch out."
By bringing children out to restaurants from a young age, you can get them accustomed to the proper behavior for dining. And whatever you do, don’t wait until too late in the day to feed them! A crabby kid never makes a good dinner date!
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