Between tricky restaurant choices, finicky eaters, and the desire to provide healthy, nourishing food, taking the kids out to eat can drive any parent crazy! We'll give you the inside scoop on better choices and some easy steps on how to lighten up those kid-favorites. By: Toby Amidor, MS, RD
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S. With many folks dining out on a regular basis, helping your child make healthy choices is essential. We reviewed 7 popular chain restaurants throughout the country and give you the inside scoop on what your little one should order to keep calories, fat, and sodium in check.
Thumbs Up: Kids Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
Made from white whole-grain bread, this sandwich from Panera Bread contains 4 grams of filling fiber and is paired with 60-calorie organic yogurt (a better choice than chips). Peanut butter (about 2 tablespoons worth) is an excellent source of protein as well as niacin, vitamin E, and selenium. With almost half the sodium as the other kids' sandwich options, it's clearly the better choice.
Thumbs Down: Signature Mac & Cheese
This 490-calorie meal doesn't seem too terrible, but remember kids need fewer calories than adults. In this dish, 55 percent of the calories come from fat, 13 grams of which is saturated fat. To balance out the meal, split a PB&J or Smoked Turkey Sandwich between two children and add a few tablespoons of the Mac & Cheese on the side.
Chili's Grill & Bar
Thumbs Up: Pepper Pals Grilled Chicken Platter
When your child is dining off the Chili's Grill & Bar Pepper Pals menu, the Grilled Chicken Platter is an overall healthy option with 160 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 170 milligrams of sodium. Side dishes and drinks aren't included in the calorie information of the dish (but are included in the kid's meal), so choose wisely. Some healthier sides include broccoli, mandarin oranges, pineapple, or celery sticks with Ranch.
Thumbs Down: Pepper Pals Side Cinnamon Apples
A medium apple contains 95 calories and is naturally fat free. However, this cinnamon-flavored menu item contains almost three times the calories and 11 grams of fat. While this side does offer a healthy dose of fiber, treat it as a dessert or skip it and choose any of the sides listed above as well as corn on the cob without butter or mashed potatoes without gravy.
See More: Healthy Fast Food Drinks
Thumbs Up: Kids Mini Hamburger
Forgo the cheese and choose the Applebee's single mini hamburger featuring 100% fresh ground beef for 390 calories and 15 grams of filling protein. This burger is quite filling, so skip the fries and pair it with steamed broccoli for just 25 calories. If the Kids menu in your town offers fried shrimp or pasta with marinara sauce, consider one of these options. Both are lower calorie and fat choices with 230 calories and 360 calories, respectively.
Thumbs Down: Kids Grilled Cheese (on sourdough bread)
With loads of sodium (1,440 milligrams to be exact), this isn't an ideal choice for a growing child. In fact, this entrée has more calories than any other sandwich on the menu. Ask for whole wheat bread to up the fiber and pair it with a side of applesauce (as opposed to fries) so you don't add even more sodium to the meal.
Uno Chicago Grill
Thumbs Up: Kids Chicken Caesar Salad
Vegetables, lean protein, and a touch of dairy make this a balanced dish with only 160 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving (there are 2 servings per portion). This salad from Uno Chicago Grill has a reasonable amount of calories and fat for the many vitamins and minerals in this salad.
Thumbs Down: Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza
This pizza contains 2 servings per portion-if the child finishes the entire plate, they'd be taking in a staggering 900 calories, 62 grams of fat, and 1440 milligrams of sodium. Instead order a kid's regular crust pepperoni pizza (one portion contains 360 calories and 13 grams of fat) and add a side of apple and mandarin slides for 50 calories.