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Tips for eating out with kids



It’s been a long week of juggling work and family life. You’re looking forward to a much-needed break from cooking, but you don’t like the thought of fries, hot dogs and pizza on the kids’ menu at your favourite restaurant. When dining out, the last thing you want is a battle with your children over what foods they eat. You try hard to make sure your kids have healthy choices at home, and you wish there were some better options on the kids’ menu. Sound familiar?

Smart solutions for eating out with kids

Try these tips to fuel your kids with healthy foods the next time you eat out.

Challenge #1: Kids’ menu choices are not very healthy.

What you can do: Take a pass on the kids’ menu.

Some restaurants do offer healthier fare that your kids will like, but if your local eatery doesn’t:

  • Choose a meal from the regular menu and split it with your child, or between your kids. Try grilled chicken, pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs, a colourful stir-fry, or grilled salmon.
  • Order a healthier appetizer as a main course for your child. For example, they could dig into chicken skewers, fresh spring rolls or quesadillas.
  • Make a meal for your kids by ordering a few healthier sides. For example, baked potato, steamed veggies and shrimp skewers.
  • Try a soup and sandwich combo or a healthier item from the lunch menu, if offered.
  • Go diverse! Many ethnic restaurants don’t have kids’ menus, but the dishes are perfect for sharing.   

Challenge #2: You don’t want to feel like you’re depriving your kids of a “treat.”

What you can do: Set some ground rules before going to the restaurant so kids know what to expect.

It’s okay to indulge from time to time, but if your kids eat out once a week or more, it’s a good idea to keep them fuelled with high-quality, healthy foods.

  • Desserts on kids’ menus are usually small, but if they’re big, get a few spoons to share.
  • If your kids have already had a treat that day, let them know that’s why they won’t be having a sugary dessert. Instead, they can enjoy fruit for dessert.
  • If you have to go with not-so-great choices at the restaurant, keep things balanced with healthier foods, like more vegetables and fruit, at the next meal or snack.

Challenge #3: It’s hard to get kids to eat vegetables when dining out.

What you can do: Add colour and crunch to your kids’ plates.

If you need to hunt for veggies and fruit in your kids’ meals, then try these tips:

  • Order raw veggies and dip for everyone.
  • Share your salad or order an extra veggie side dish.
  • Give your kids a side order of fresh fruit. That way, they’ll have less room for dessert.

Challenge #4: Drinks can add empty calories.

What you can do: Satisfy your kids’ thirst with water or milk.

Many drinks on restaurant menus, such as iced tea or fruit-flavoured beverages, are similar to pop – in other words, sugar and water without the fizz.

  • Ask for the water or milk to come with the meal. That way, kids won’t fill up before the food arrives.
  • Try ice water with an orange slice for a “flavoured water” treat.
  • If you’re ordering drinks other than milk or water, get the small size (no refills). Offer water if your kids are still thirsty.

Challenge #5: Fries...fries... with everything.

What you can do: Pass on the fries – when you can.

Kids don’t need to eat fries with every restaurant meal. While they may taste great, fries can add a lot of extra fat, salt and calories.

  • Ask for raw veggies and dip, fresh fruit, vegetable soup, a baked potato or rice instead.
  • Order an extra side for the family to share e.g. bruschetta, pita with hummus/salsa.
  • If fries are too much of a battle, ask for fewer fries on the plate, share them with the whole table, or order half fries, half veggies. Sweet potato fries are a better option. While they’re still fried and have a lot of salt, they’re also packed with healthy vitamins like beta-carotene.

Bottom Line

Eating out can be a nice treat, but most restaurant foods tend to be high in calories, fat and salt, and lower in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and milk. If you’re trying to eat healthier, you’re better off eating out less often. But here’s the good news: if consumers ask for healthier menu choices, restaurants will offer them.

Contact an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian for more tips on making smart choices when eating out. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.