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Health Team

Swap fruit for fries, milk for juice to make healthier kids meals

Posted April 20

Kids can be picky eaters, which can often make it easier to go for the chicken fingers and fries when you go out to eat even though its not a healthy choice.

Restaurants know they have to offer healthy options, but most efforts are geared toward adults, not children.

After looking at more than 4,000 beverages, entrees, sides and desserts at 45 chain restaurants, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that restaurants have made little progress in improving the nutritional quality of kid's menus.

"I usually like my kids to eat some sort of protein, some sort of fruit, we can sneak a vegetable in there," said parent Katy Lough.

Scoping out the best options, though, can be a challenge for parents and kids.

"According to the Department of Agriculture, the average kid's meal with an entree, side, beverage and dessert has about 1,000 calories," Consumer Reports' Julia Calderone said. "That's actually close to the amount that an 8-year old should have in an entire day."

There are ways to help kids eat healthier when going out.

One option is to share something from the regular menu with your child. Portions are generally oversized anyway, so you'll both eat better as a result.

Another possibility is a healthy appetizer or salad that might make a full meal for your child.

Calderone also says to consider making substitutions wherever you can:

"It's really not enough to just make a healthy entree choice," Calderone said. "The sides, drinks and desserts can actually pack a lot of calories, fats and sodium. Ask your server to substitute fruit for fries, or milk instead of juice."

Another healthy move is to skip the sauce. The reality is almost anything with cheese or a creamy sauce is probably loaded with fat.

Finally, limit desserts: Even the kid-sized desserts at restaurants often have as many calories as an entree and double the saturated fat. Instead, consider ordering just one for everyone to share.

If you're dining at a chain, encourage your child to look for a little apple logo next to kid's menu items. They're from the Kids LiveWell program, which was started by National Restaurant Association.

After reviewing menus at two popular chains, Consumer Reports says the best option for kids at McDonalds is the hamburger Happy Meal, with kids fries, apple slices and low-fat milk.

At Panera Bread, pick the PBJ sandwich, apple and water.

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