At Restaurants

Long gone is the time when eating out in a restaurant was a rare treat, an infrequent opportunity to indulge.   Most Americans are eating out or ordering in 3-4 nights a week, and often more.  Eating out healthfully is difficult enough for we adults, and we know how!  How hard must it be for our kids?  If they are going to stand any chance at all, we have to help them.  And, there are lots of ways to do just that.

Here are a few ideas on how to make this easier:

  • Be mindful of the attitude you exhibit.  It’s easy to inadvertently glorify unhealthful eating while treating healthful eating as if it is some kind of punishment.  There is a balanced view that allows for treats, but acknowledges them as such.
  • It helps if both parents are on the same page.  Kids will often default to the lowest common denominator – eating like the parent with the worst eating habits.  It is like unwritten permission.
  • Plan a “treat meal” once a week or so, and teach your children how to order healthfully the rest of the time.
  • Create both a large repertoire as well a personal history of restaurants in which you always eat healthfully.  Find places that offer interesting and varied healthy choices, like Mediterranean or Asian restaurants.  Make it easy to make good choices.
  • Segregate the restaurants in which you eat unhealthfully.  It is very difficult for your child to make healthy choices in a restaurant that they have already established as their favorite burger joint.
  • Read or listen to Kessler’s new book The End of Overeating, to get a good perspective on what the food industry and restaurants are really doing with your foods and how they are deliberately playing on your vulnerabilities. He explains a lot of the appetite science and helps “get your dander” up to defend yourself and your kids from this intentional influence.
  • Get everyone on board so that one child does not feel singled out, and is expected to eat a salad while siblings indulge on french fries.
  • Pull up the menus online ahead of time, and make choices before you are in the restaurant.  Don’t open the menu again when you get there!
  • Have a conversation ahead of time, before you are in front of others about what your expectations are about how they will order.
  • Make compromises:  like no french fries, but frozen yogurt after, or splitting a dessert at the restaurant, or splitting two different entrees – one healthy and one not so healthy.
  • Order first.  It is easier to resist being influenced by the choices of others.
  • Make it a habit to skip the appetizers, except perhaps for salads or broth-based soups.  This is especially important with take out foods, where, if it isn’t all eaten (and it was probably more food than anyone really needed anyway), then it is leftover in the refrigerator and just creates yet another overeating opportunity for someone…usually Mom.  I know, because she is often my client!
  • Share “adult” dishes with your child or between your children.  Except in the rare restaurant with decent choices, don’t even consider the Children’s Menu.  Treat eating off the adult menu as a privilege.
  • If you are going to order unhealthy sides, share them with others at the table.
  • Eat healthfully yourself if you expect your child to do the same.
  • If you don’t want to cement an unhealthy habit, don’t even start it!  This is especially true when you try a new restaurant.  It is a blank slate until you program it.