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How to Eat Healthy at a Restaurant (with Kids!)

How to Eat Healthy at a Restaurant (with Kids!)

It’s Friday night. You’re tired from a long week hustling kids to practice, helping with homework and keeping the house in good shape. If you’re a working parent, you might be exhausted at this point in the week.

The last thing you want to do is cook a meal for your family. Truth be told, you’d rather go out for dinner.

But, you’ve been trying so hard to eat healthy. You’ve made it a priority for your family. You’ve shopped, cooked and served home-cooked meals all week. You don’t want to ruin your progress (or sabotage it) by going out to eat.

How to Eat Healthy at a Restaurant

What if I told you it’s no problem to go out, as long as you have a strategy for how to eat healthy in a restaurant?

It all boils down to having the right state of mind. The right state of mind will help you make better restaurant dining decisions.  And if you can eat healthy at a restaurant, it’ll be easy for you to teach your kids how to eat healthy.

8 Strategies for Healthy Eating in a Restaurant

1. Become a Food Group Guru 

Learn about the foods that constitute a balanced meal. These are the foods your child should be eating each day, and their appropriate portion sizes, will help them make healthier choices at any meal, anywhere, anytime.

2. Moderation, Not Deprivation

It is okay for kids to have their favorite tasty treats every now and then.  Order small portions of the most indulgent foods and larger portions of healthy ones to provide balance to their meals.  Shoot for 90% healthy foods and 10% “fun” foods.

3. Break Bad Habits

For the most part, you’ll want your child to eat because he’s hungry, not because he’s bored or uncomfortable. Ask your child if he’s really hungry when he requests an off-schedule treat or snack. Offer a healthy option such as a piece of fruit if he’s truly hungry.  If not, then encourage him to hold off until the next scheduled meal or snack.

4. Think Ahead

Many restaurants have menus available on-line, often with nutrition information.  Identifying the better options at your family’s favorite restaurants will give them flexibility with healthy options.

5. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Help your children start actively listening to their instinctual hunger and fullness cues to avoid overeating.  Listen to this podcast episode on Raising a Mindful Eater to help you set the environment for intuitive eating and self-regulated eating. An intuitive eating approach can help your child self-regulate their eating and encourage more mindfulness with eating.

6. The Power of Positive Thinking

Focusing on the healthy foods that your family enjoys is much more productive than dwelling on the ones that you think they can’t have.  A “glass half full” mentality will make a healthy lifestyle easier to maintain long-term.  Also try to avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” as this can distort your child’s view of them.

7. The Satisfaction of Sharing

Treats, such as decadent desserts, can be shared with the whole table so that everyone can indulge without overindulging.  Some restaurants even offer family-style dining, which is an optimal feeding method for raising healthy eaters.

8. Dear Diary

Food journaling is a great way to put your child’s eating habits into perspective, for you and them.  It can also offer some accountability.  Write down their food intake, physical activity, and thoughts and moods throughout the day for some insight into the impact their eating and lifestyle has on their wellbeing.

Eating out at a restaurant can be a healthy option for the whole family. It is all about finding a balance that works for your family:

  • Balancing immediate pleasure with long-term health. 
  • Balancing healthy foods with the occasional treat. 
  • Balancing calories eaten with calories burned. 
  • Balancing food groups at each meal. 
  • Balancing restaurant dining with home cooking. 

Balance in any area is the key to maintaining your child’s happiness and wellness throughout life– body, mind, and soul.

The Nourished Child podcast #38: School nutrition includes school lunch, breakfast, after-school snacks, supper and more. Learn about what's happening today in school nutrition with Donna Martin RD.

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    1. It sure is! As well as flexibility and a motivation to treat less desirable eating patterns on one day, with better and healthier ones the next day.