Take Time to Help Kids Eat Right®

Published 4:41 am Wednesday, August 18, 2021


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Most of us have a love/hate relationship with fast food…love the convenience but not the lack of healthy choices.  I remember how exciting it was when McDonald’s opened in Batesville, it caused a traffic jam. My boys loved some chicken tenders.

I even remember when the first McDs opened in Memphis on Highland Avenue.  My sister and I would sit in the back seat and hum the McDonald’s theme song (McDonald’s is my kind of place …clap, clap…) in hopes that our daddy would get the subliminal message and swing by for fries. My sweet little 90-year-old grandmother loved her some Happy Meals, too and so did my momma.  They enjoyed the little burgers and fries, but especially they loved to collect the toys included in the happy meal to give children who came to visit.

And same feelings about drive-thrus.  Convenient for sure, but sadly, carry out food has replaced many family meals around the table with less-than-healthy food.  Fast food does not all the time mean nutritious.  But, I’m guilty too, it’s so easy to stop by for supper in a sack for DW and me …. no prep and no clean-up. There’s a near-by local BBQ restaurant that has the best smoked brisket that we get a craving for on Saturday nights, especially after a full day of working the yard or even doing nothing.  And, since there’s no prize in the sack, we will occasionally opt for a piece of pecan pie to share.

Studies show that children (teens and younger) who eat fast food do consume more calories than from home-prepared meals.  And, with a steady diet of fast food, they most often get higher amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium, but inadequate amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.  So, what’s a busy parent to do?

Well, a total ban on fast-food is neither practical nor necessary.   I get it, life is busy, and quick food is so tempting.  So, parents should do a little homework and check out options, portions, and nutritional content of drive-thru choices.   Being in the know will help you as the adult lead your children in a healthier direction and you will find that many fast-food places do offer healthier options like fresh fruit and vegetables and not so excessive portions.

Set limits: if you’ve done your homework, you can let your children know what the best choices are and which you will not allow before you hit the red button.  Set the rules before ordering, like having milk instead of a cola and fruit instead of fries.

Good choices.  If you don’t have time to investigate nutritional content keep these healthier choices in mind: salad with grilled chicken, small burgers, turkey or grilled chicken wraps, apple slices, bean burritos, chili, fruit cups, small roast beef sandwiches, and fat-free of low-fat milk.

Practical Portions.  Supersizing might sound like a good deal, but with childhood obesity on the rise, it’s not a healthy deal, unless meals for older kids will be shared.   We adults can also control our calories with kid-sized meals that include fruit and fat-free milk.  And what a good example for the backseat bunch.

Don’t forget water.  Colas and sweet teas aren’t the only choices from the drive-thru; milk and water are always appropriate options for younger children and teens.  Plus, fewer sweet drinks also improve dental health…. that means less cavity causing sugar.

Be prepared. Having tasty and healthy snacks in the car will mean fewer trips to the drive-thru, like: individual servings of raisins, nuts, fat-free popcorn, peanut butter or cheese crackers, pretzels, even single-serve containers of applesauce, sliced peaches, or pears.  With an insulated cooler and an ice pack you can travel with string cheese, yogurt and fresh fruit and veggies for your passengers to munch on as you drive right past the drive-thru and no one goes hungry.

Meanwhile back at home. Plan your meals, use your crock-pot, recycle leftovers and look forward to supper at home with good food and happy children at the table.  You’ll learn so much about what is going on with them over supper…. which is just as good for their health as well-planned nutritious meals are.  Here are 2 recipes from the Academy of Food & Nutrition that will make everyone look forward to coming to the table!  You can find more info and child-approved recipes at www.kidseatright.org.