A child’s life is full of firsts. First steps, first words, first tooth, and for parents who enjoy dining out, there is a child’s first meal at a restaurant. For young children, the meals may be small, but there are big lessons to learn about lifelong healthy dining habits.
Choose Kid-Friendly Restaurants
Choose a restaurant that caters to children and has a nutritious children’s menu that includes smaller portion sizes and meals designed to provide ample nourishment for smaller bodies. Many restaurants have menus available online, so you can check out the options in advance.
Good Things in Small Packages
Every bite should deliver health-boosting nutrients for growing bodies and minds. Filling up on chips or too much bread before the meal may cause children to fill their bellies and not leave any room for more nutritious foods.
Depending on the age of the children – whether they need mashed bananas or are fine with finger foods –ask for cut-up fruit while you enjoy an appetizer. It will keep them occupied and contribute to the one cup of fruit they need per day.
To prevent choking, cut grapes and other solid foods, such as meat, poultry, bread, and veggies into tiny bites.
Teach kids to slow down and savor flavors. Parents are powerful role models, so set a positive example by setting a relaxed pace. Dining out with small children helps encourage a healthy curiosity about food and how to behave at the table.
Pass the Pasta Please
The old stand-by plate of pasta is a kid favorite. Penne, macaroni, or shells are easiest for small children to maneuver onto a spoon. Ask for pasta with a little olive oil or marinara sauce rather than coated in butter or cheese sauces.
Simple Is Best
Often side dishes, even steamed vegetables, are highly seasoned. Request that a child’s vegetables be made without added salt. Order a plain baked potato or sweet potato, mash and season lightly at the table.
Say “No Thank You” to French Fries
Substitute healthier “sides” in place of fries, such as baked potatoes, carrots, apple slices, or other fruits and vegetables.
Try New Foods, Too!
Some kids are more adventurous than others, but it’s important to encourage tasting new foods when dining out. The more variety in the diet, the more nutrients provided. Choose two or three suitable menu items, then let your child pick one. For new foods, offer a bite or two from your meal or order plain foods with the sauce on the side.
Learn to Share
Whether it’s splitting a platter of pasta for the whole family to sample or ordering one slice of cheesecake with four forks; dining out teaches proper portion control when you share.
Rethink the Sweets
Dining out used to be a special occasion, so soda was an acceptable treat. But, since most kids dine out multiple times per week, think about the drinks. Encourage fat-free milk, plain water, or make your own special “soda” by mixing equal parts fruit juice and sparkling water. Calcium is important at all ages, but especially for growing bones. To get more calcium, drink low-fat or fat-free white or chocolate milk, and choose dairy-based treats such as yogurt, a milkshake, or frozen dairy dessert.