The Scoop on Food

A Plea for Healthier Kids' Menus

Wouldn't it be nice if restaurants offered more yummy, healthy kids' meals? While we wait for this to happen, use these dietitian-approved (and easy!) tips to make your child's plate more nutritious.

little girl eating at restaurant Shutterstock
While I don't have kids of my own, I have plenty of friends and family that do. And when I'm out for lunches and dinners with them, I can't help but be a teensy bit judge-y about the kids' meal options at many restaurants. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I would love for these restaurants to take the jump and offer more un-fried main options and more non-French-fry veggies, along with less-sugary dessert options. Why does the go-to kids' meal at many restaurants have to be a grilled cheese sandwich with French fries? Well, it doesn't.

We are making slow but sure progress in this area—for instance, the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining Finder are in their fifth year of partnering up on the Kids LiveWell program, which works with dozens of chain restaurants to offer healthier options for children. You can, for instance, order your child grilled chicken with steamed spinach at Carrabba's Italian Grill or turkey with garlic dill new potatoes at Boston Market.

But there are plenty of chains that don't offer healthy options, as well as many smaller restaurants that could use kids' menu makeovers. Need some inspiration to healthy up your kids' plates? Try these strategies for your next meal out:

  1. Have your kids eat off of your plate. That's right. You're no longer the one noshing leftover chicken nuggets off of your child's plate. Order an extra turkey burger and salad, and share it among your children. If they insist on fries, order a side for the table so that everyone's sharing.
  2. Think outside of the kids' menu. Spiralized veggies are in, and so is breakfast for dinner (aka brinner). Try the spiralized veggie pasta at Houlihan's, or split a veggie omelet between two kids at a diner, subbing a fruit salad in place of home fries.
  3. Head to a tapas restaurant. Small plates aren't only on kids' menus. Order child-friendly options, like Pan Con Tomate (toasted bread with tomato, garlic, and olive oil), Tortilla Espanola (an omelet with eggs, potatoes, and onion), or grilled asparagus spears—even a bowl of olives for older kids. The best part: Many tapas are natural finger foods.

Do you have rules for what your kids can order at a restaurant? What are your go-to kids' meals, and what healthier options would you like to see on kids' menus?

Amy Gorin is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. Frequently interviewed by the media, she privately counsels clients in Jersey City, NJ, New York City, and long distance—and works as a nutrition consultant and motivational speaker. Amy pens "The Eat List" blog for WeightWatchers.com and has written hundreds of articles on nutrition and health. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.