How to Order the Healthiest Kids’ Meals at Restaurants

Eating out with kids isn’t always easy.  From the wiggles to the boredom to the battles over what and what not to order (“No, you can’t have just a sundae for dinner!”), eating out with kids can be an exhausting minefield, especially when your goal is a nutritious meal that everyone can be happy about.

recent survey and study into kids’ meals and restaurants underscore how large a role kids play in deciding restaurant meals.  According to the survey:

  • Half of parents reported that children determined their own orders. Not a big surprise to parents who have negotiated and even battled with kids over menu choices.
  • Taste was the most common reason for children’s meal choices. As restaurants get creative with kid-favorites to make them healthier and/or create entirely new dishes that tempt kids with flavor and parents with nutrition, eating out may become easier for families.

According to another recent study, the options on many kids’ menus may not exactly be the best choices. The good news is that many restaurants are stepping up to entice guests of all ages (and help families out) with more nutritious choices that don’t sacrifice flavor.  It’s up to us to vote with our forks!

If your goal is an easier and more nutritious meal at restaurants, these tips can help your family order the healthiest kids’ choices:

  • Look for fun new choices on the menu, which include healthful and kid-friendly ingredients like grilled chicken, sliced fruit, dippable veggies and whole wheat pasta.
  • Offer choices to little ones, as in “Would you like to order the spaghetti and broccoli or grilled chicken and corn?”
  • Split.  Decide on a healthier dish from the adult menu that you both would enjoy and share it.
  • Try a new restaurant with a variety of nutritious choices to break everyone in the family out of a rut.  The survey also found that most (76%) kids reported visiting the restaurant previously; 64% of them placed their usual order making a new restaurant a fresh way to make healthier choices.
  • Build a kid’s meal from the adult menu: Smaller sized soups, salads, sides and add-ons paired together can make a fun and well-rounded meal that helps kids get creative, take ownership and feel a little more grown-up.
  • Make special requests.  Veggies instead of fries with that burger or sandwich, less or no oil, and whole wheat bread for the grilled cheese, grilled (instead of fried) chicken strips are all great requests to help improve the nutrition of old favorites
  • Opt for restaurants that make the healthier choice the default choice.  More restaurants, like Silver Diner, are finding success in this strategy.  By making a side salad the default instead of fries or the 100% fruit juice the standard in place of soda, restaurants remove a barrier to a nutritious meal and cut down on the family meal time fuss over what to order.

Eating out can be a great way to enjoy some time together, try new flavors and sneak in extra nutrition to help keep everyone nourished and energized.