Eating out

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In our Kiwi Families article Eating Out there is some great advice on eating out happily as a family and keeping it healthy too!

The growing trend is that we are choosing more frequently to dine away from home rather than eat at home. This is also true for people with young families.

Chicken nuggets and chips?

So should we worry about our choices when we dine out? Can we just indulge ourselves and let our children choose what they want off the menu with little guidance? The answer to that depends largely on your normal routine. If you only go to restaurants very occasionally, it may not be such a problem. But if you dine out a lot as a family, then it is very important you consider your choices on the menu and you pick your restaurant carefully.

If you are eating out with young children at a restaurant, then nine times out of ten, you will be presented with a children’s menu to choose from. Unfortunately often these menus are high fat and tend to be centered on highly processed choices such as chicken nuggets, fish fingers, hot dogs and chips. There may be little or no vegetables offered as part of the meal. The drinks list will often be based around a soft drink selection – at best juice may be offered.

With our increasing trend of eating out it is easy for children to see the high fat choices like chicken nuggets or fish fingers as a normal and everyday food, which they are not.

High fat choices like chicken nuggets and chips may satisfy the appetite initially but they are not long lasting foods. To get satisfied your child may end up eating a lot more than they normally would to satisfy their hunger.
Most children will eat these high fat items quite happily and easily which can make for a pleasant dining experience for mum and dad! However, why not start choosing your restaurants wisely based on the selection of food , not just for the adults, but also for your children. At home they are expected to eat a smaller portion of the meal that is being served to the family, so why not ask for a small serve of a suitable choice from the adult menu.

Tips for making a healthier choice when you are eating out:

  • Before you go out suggest that an alternative to the usual chicken nuggets / chips will be tried tonight. If the thought has already been planted before the menu is presented you will have more luck at encouraging your child to make an alternative choice.
  • If you know that there are items on the adult menu that your child would eat happily, then ask for them not to hand out the children’s menu. Ask for a smaller serve if you need to.
  • When ordering your drinks ask for the drinks to be delivered when the meal is served, not before. Children can sip away on drinks very easily and fill up before the meal is served. Ask for a bottle of water to be put on the table if it is not automatically served. If milk or juice is not on the children’s menu, ask for it instead of the soft drink option.
  • Ask for a side dish of salad to go with the meal if is not already part of it – or ask if they can do some raw vegetable sticks, cut up tomatoes or cucumber depending on your child’s preference.
  • Portions can often be larger than home cooked meals, so don’t encourage your child to finish everything on the plate if they say they have eaten sufficient. If it is a smorgasbord type selection don’t let your child pile their plate too high – remind them of how much food is served on the plate at home.
  • Encourage a fruit based option as the dessert, not just ice-cream. Ask for no cream to be served with the dessert.

Tips for an enjoyable evening out:

  • Make sure you time your dining experience well. If dining out with young children, then eat early. This ensures they are not too tired to eat properly. Eating early with young children also means the restaurant may not be as busy, so service will hopefully be a bit quicker.
  • Encourage your children to act appropriately in the restaurant – asking them to sit at the table while eating out is easier to achieve if this is the expected behaviour at home as well.
  • If dining with young children take along some colouring in books and crayons, so they have something to keep them occupied and seated while waiting for the meal to be served. Even better if the restaurant provides this!

Eating out in NZ with ethnic cuisine

Different cuisines can often be a great option, as they appear interesting to children, so they may be quite happy to try something different. Consider some of these options:

Middle Eastern

These options often have food served in a wrap or pita pocket, and are often served with lots of vegetables, which is great.

Japanese

Lots of children like sushi and this is a good low fat option. Also consider a Teppanyaki Bar where the food is cooked on a hot plate in front of you – sometimes the chefs here can be very entertaining while they handle the ingredients and cooking implements with great flourish and skill. You may even be asked to catch raw eggs in a bowl!! Using chopsticks can also be fun for children.

Chinese

If you choose wisely this can be a good low fat option. Some choices can be high in fat, especially if choosing options like spring rolls, won tons and fried noodles. Watch also for battered meats in sauces, such as the chicken in lemon chicken or the pork in sweet and sour pork. Better options are the stir fries, steamed dishes, chop suey and chow mein options. Again, the chopsticks can be a fun experience and challenge for the children.

Mexican

You do need to watch the nachos and sour cream from a fat perspective, but choosing items such burritos, soft tacos and enchiladas can be a good choice.

Italian

Places with pasta or pizza are also a good choice, although the creamy sauces are not such a good option for the waistline!

Cooking experience

Children enjoy restaurants where you cook your own food on hot plates at the table. This may not be the safest option if dining with very young children, but for older children it is great.

The challenge for eating out…

So take up the challenge and see if you can widen the choice beyond the standard nuggets, fish fingers and chips for your children when you dine out as a family.

Around the country there must be many great restaurants that are family friendly and who are proactive in providing a nutritious choice for children. Let us know your favourite family dining site!

Useful Website & Articles

For information on Takeaways refer to our separate article on this.

There are some great ideas on Snacks for when you are out and about with kids in this Kiwi Families article.

Fiona Boyle

Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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