Eating meals at home is important for many reasons. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I’m an advocate of family dinners because of the connections they create between parents and kids and the quality of the meals that are served.


A study done at University of Illinois at Chicago backs up the belief that home cooked meals are healthier. According to CBS News, researchers discovered that “kids and teens consumed up to 300 calories more per trip to a fast-food or full-service restaurant compared to days they ate at home.”


That’s something to keep in mind when you’re trying to decide if you want to take the time to make a meal at home or not. Does it mean you should never eat out? Of course not. I’m not a proponent of conventional fast-food, but I do enjoy going to our local, independent restaurants and taking my boys along, too. Many restaurants, even the very good ones, are known for their large servings, though, so here are some tips for making sure your kids aren’t eating an abundance of calories simply because they’re in a restaurant.


  • Limit beverages with calories to one serving and then have them switch to water. The study found that “kids and adolescents were also shown to drink ‘significantly higher’ amounts of soda on days they ate from restaurants, especially adolescents.” Many restaurants offer unlimited refills on soda, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. After the first serving of soda, or milk or juice, have your child drink water.
  • Skip the kids’ menu. Kids menus are often exclusively burgers, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese and fries. When is the last time you saw healthy options on a kids’ menu other than substituting the fries for applesauce? Help kids choose healthier choices from the adult menu and take home any uneaten portion for another meal.
  • Decline the bread, tortilla chips or other complementary items that are delivered to the table before your order arrives. Tell your server when you’re first approached that you don’t want those items. It’s too hard to resist filling up on those things before the food comes, and they can add 100 calories or more to a meal.
  • Don’t even look at the dessert menu. A full-size dessert can add a lot of calories to a meal. Instead of buying dessert at the restaurant, go home and have a small serving of ice cream if everyone is craving a little something sweet.

In addition to saving calories, these tips will help eliminate food waste, too.


Do you have any additional tips for taking kids to restaurants while not increasing their calorie intake for the day too drastically?


Related stories on MNN: 6 tips for making healthy choices when you're eating out


MNN tease photo of kid eating burger: Shutterstock


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Meals out mean up to 300 more calories for kids
Need a reason to take the time to cook? Here's one: Just one fast-food or restaurant meal could add up to 300 calories to kids' and teens' daily intake.