McDonald's made news this week with its pledge to make its "Happy Meals" more nutritious. But the conversation about "Happy Meals" needs to happen before someone is unhappy about a food choice, said registered dietitian Amanda Crosby.
"The conversation about healthy eating needs to start in the home," said Crosby, a dietitian at the Franciscan Healthy Living Center in Lafayette. "When parents take the time to talk about the importance of healthy choices and practice what they say, then kids will pick up on this information. They will want to make better choices because they know it makes them feel strong and have energy to play. Sure fries smell good, but when you know that they are not the best choice for you, it is easier to say no."
Swapping Choices on the Menu
Crosby recommends giving your children choices from the menu, highlighting options that include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
"Give your child choices: 'Would you like apples or yogurt?' instead of 'Would you like fries or yogurt?'," Crosby said. "When children get to choose they feel they have control. It’s when they have lost control that meltdowns typically happen."
Other Tips for Families Grabbing a Fast Dinner
- Choose grilled chicken nuggets, if available.
- Opt-out on the fries and get double of the alternative options such as apples, applesauce or yogurt. Ask for the foods you want for your child.
- If child is getting a fruit, drink water or white milk instead.
- Pack a veggie and fruit from home for family and stop by for a protein option. This will save money and calories.
- If your child will eat a salad, choose a side salad as an option.
- Use the drive-thru and choose to eat somewhere else, if you or your child get tempted by the smell of fries.
Help for Busy Families
Research published in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one-third of children and adolescents ate fast food on a given day. Another research study published last year found that 79 percent of adults surveyed ate fast food at least weekly – and nearly one-fourth ate fast food three or more times in a week.
For families, it may require a lifestyle change.
"It is okay to have treats every now and then, but when fast food becomes a lifestyle, then it's time to make changes," Crosby said. "It's important to not let time management get in the way of making smarter food choices. It's also important to know you are the parent, and you are responsible for giving you child a healthy start in life. As a dietitian, I understand the importance of healthy eating, but as a parent I can relate to the struggles with time management."
"Pack dinner meals if you will be on the run to kids activities in the evening, and take to work and store in the fridge if you have the availability to do so," Crosby said. "If you have no space to refrigerate, consider packing a shelf-stable meal such as a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with a veggie and fruit and water to drink."