How to Order a Healthy Restaurant Meal for Your Child (It's Possible!)

mother and son at restaurant
Dining out with kids can be a challenge -- and not just because it's sometimes difficult to get them to sit still. Kids' menus often are filled with unhealthy choices for our little ones, and we can't make eating out a chance to break all the rules -- at least not every time.


Sure, we all love french fries, but that love can't override the need for veggies in kids' diets. There are tricks to navigating the fry-filled menus and getting a healthy dish for your little. We spoke to parents who've figured it out, and they shared some great strategies for dining out with the kids while keeping it yummy and nutritious.

1. Read the whole menu, not just the kids' menu. We often go straight to the kids' menu because its got smaller portions and kids love those fun games and pictures. But consider the whole menu, even for your child. You can always take the leftovers home.

2. Have kids split meals. If you have more than one little one eating, this is a perfect idea (provided they can agree). Splitting a healthier "adult" meal is better than all the junk put into a kids' one in many restaurants.

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3. Order from the sides menu. By ordering sides and/or an appetizer, you may be able to tailor a perfect meal for your child. Some restaurants have add-on grilled chicken options, which you could pair with a veggie side and add-on rice.

4. Ask for substitutions. No one wants to be that annoying customer, but sometimes we have to ask for substitutions. Instead of a side of greasy fries, ask for some steamed seasonal veggies.

5. Share a meal with them. You're probably not going to eat all yours anyway! So share your meal with your child with possibly a salad, a soup, or an appetizer.

6. Forget about which is the easiest fastest option. We often feel the clock starts ticking as soon as we sit down at a restaurant as to when our kids are ready to go. But it's good to come prepared with books, suitable toys, or crayons and a notebook so our kids know we're they're there for the long haul. This way we don't have to choose the fastest option on the menu (we're talking 'bout you, mac 'n' cheese made from powder) -- instead we want the food made with care (fish taco, anybody?).

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7. Ignore the free ice cream. This can be a tough one, but it's one to be enforced. Dessert isn't part of the meal -- the meal should be the meal. If you want a treat, consider one dessert for all to share.

8. Explore different restaurants. We can fall into ruts and go to the same spot over and over again, but add to your dining-out experience and try new places. That excitement alone can allow kids to explore new foods, spices they've never tried, and cooking techniques that may interest them. Take my friend who recently took her child to a hibachi restaurant; the experience itself was incredible and her kid ate veggies for the first time while dining out.

9. Skip the sugary drink. Instead of having your kid fill up on a bunch of sugar disguised as a drink, skip it totally even if it's included for kids. Instead order water and add a lemon or lime wedge, or choose white milk.

10. Get applesauce on the side. One mom shared that her child is more apt to try new foods when they're dipped in apple sauce. Other parents noted that a sprinkling of cheese also helps. So when you're trying healthier options instead of the ultra-fried ones, add a favorite topping, and it may be more likely to be a hit.

11. Lead by example. Of course if we're going to preach healthy eating habits, we have to eat healthy as well. If fries are a definite must-have, consider splitting a small order among the family, so there's room for nutrient-rich foods as well.


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