Eating out was once a special treat – but in today’s busy society we find ourselves consuming food away from home more often. With evidence showing that eating at food outlets, leisure places and “on the go” are associated with less healthy food choices than eating at home – how as parents do we tackle the diverse landscape of children’s food? 
It’s no secret that a lot of restaurant children’s meals are not the most nutritious. Too often they are high in calories, saturated fat, sugar and sodium – and low in fruit and vegetables. As a busy mum of 3 children under 6, trying to go out for a nice family meal can often seem like a chore in itself! But once out, the children’s menu will rarely vary from restaurant to restaurant offering the standard pizza, burger, chicken nuggets or sausages all normally served with chips and rarely a salad or vegetable in sight. I wouldn’t often give my children these meals at home, so why do I have to make the exception when we are out of the house? I often wonder why a separate children’s menu is needed, can’t we have smaller portions of nutritional adult meals instead? When children are used to going to fast-food restaurants and finding their meal in a fancy colourful box with a toy inside, it might seem like we are fighting a losing battle. However, recent policy changes are working their way into the “eating out” market with more diverse and healthier options being offered including offering milk or water to drink rather than sugar-filled drinks and more vegetables as standard. Some great things I have seen when out include offering children their own meze platter with lots of different vegetables cut up and hummus to dip the vegetables in, main courses that offer “hidden veg” such as vegetable blended into sauces for fussier eaters and also offering a variety of sides to accompany a meal such as corn on the cob or cut up peppers rather than standard chips or baked beans. Although changes are slowly being implemented, I think more work needs to be done and here are some suggestions I would make to help mums help their children eat healthier when out of the home:
- Nutritional content of meals made visible in all restaurants
- More variety on the children’s menu- including more fresh ingredients and healthier options as standard
- Removing the option of sugary drinks from children’s meal deals
- Give the healthy options as standard i.e. brown bread sandwiches with white bread only given on request.
- Plates filled with salad on the side and not crisps
- Healthier options (fruit, water & milk) at the front of displays rather than hidden behind chocolates, crisps and sugar-filled drinks
Dr Sarah Nicholson
1. Ziauddeen, N., et al., Eating at food outlets and leisure places and “on the go” is associated with less-healthy food choices than eating at home and in school in children: cross-sectional data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Program (2008-2014). Am J Clin Nutr, 2018. 107(6): p. 992-1003.