Setting a good example when eating out with the family

Kids Eat Smart Eating OutEnjoying the many new and delicious restaurants around town is something my family enjoys doing on a regular basis. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to look at the many different options on pages and pages of menus at these restaurants.

Small changes and requests to the menu items can help curb those extra calories we sometimes rack up when eating out. Our children learn by example – by adopting a positive attitude towards making healthier choices, you’ll help your kids think that way too.

Have a look below for some tips and tricks from the Healthy Canadians website for enjoying a healthier meal when eating out:

  • Treat your taste buds to something different. Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Caribbean, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic cuisines offer healthy choices.
  • Ask to see the nutrition information for the menu items in your cafeteria, restaurant, and fast food outlet. Use it to help you choose the healthier menu options.
  • Ask for your meal to be cooked without salt or MSG (monosodium glutamate), a seasoning that is very high in sodium.
  • Enjoy the taste of foods without adding butter, margarine, gravy, or rich sauces. Ask how your meal is prepared, and ask for the sauce to be left off or served on the side.
  • If you do eat a meal high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt (sodium), be sure to eat healthier meals the rest of the day.

Some examples of healthier menu options:

  • Foods like steamed vegetables, vegetable soups, fresh fruit salads, berries with yogurt, and salads with dressing on the side are just a few of the healthier options.
  • Choose dark mixed green salads with vegetables or fruit instead of higher fat Caesar, taco, potato, or pasta salads.
  • Order gravy, sauces, and dressings on the side and use only small amounts.
  • Choose tomato- or vegetable-based soups and pasta sauces instead of alfredo or cheese sauces.
  • Order sandwiches, subs, or wraps with whole grain bread, buns, or tortillas. Choose one spread instead of two (for example, mayonnaise or margarine, not both).
  • Choose baked, broiled, or steamed foods instead of breaded or deep-fried foods.
  • Limit cakes, cookies, and rich desserts. Get a smaller size or share with your family or friends.
  • Choose water, skim, 1% or 2% milk, fortified soy beverage or 100% juice instead of soft drinks or highly sweetened beverages.

Keep portion size in mind

Some restaurants serve a lot more food than you need. These tips will help you keep your portion size reasonable.

  • Avoid super-sizing.
  • Order a small appetizer or half a meal.
  • Share your meal with someone.
  • If you are served too much food, ask for a take-out container and keep the leftovers in the fridge for the next day.
  • Have the small-sized drink and ask for a glass of water instead of ordering a large. You can add a lot of extra calories in your day just from drinks.

Cool tools!

  • My Food Guide Servings Tracker helps you keep track of the amount and type of food you eat each day.
  • eaTracker (by the Dietitians of Canada) helps you set food and activity goals and compare your food choices to national guidelines.

A colleague of mine recently told me that when it came to going out to eat when she was a kid, it meant only one of two options: McDonald’s or Swiss Chalet. Now that she’s a mom, she deliberately tries to expose her son to different restaurants with varied cuisines, like Chinese and vegetarian.

Although she says she has had some regular success getting him to try non-traditional foods, she confesses that given the choice, McDonalds or pizza are still his favourites….oh well, at least Happy Meals can include yogurt and apples nowadays!

What are some of your family’s favourite places to eat out?

Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

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One comment

  1. Heather Russell · · Reply

    A great blog! I too am branching out and trying new international dishes. Butter chicken and Tikka Masala have become favourites!

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