Part III: What My Family Ate On Our Summer Vacation

By: Jodie Shield, MED, RDN

Friends, I have to get something off my registered dietitian nutritionist chest: fast food doesn’t really bother me. Of course it’s greasy and salty. Yes, the portions are outrageously big with enough calories to feed your entire family! But as a parent, I understand it’s quick, convenient, and allegedly affordable. (I’ll get to that in a minute!) And thanks to a recent trend, many chains now offer healthier items like grilled chicken sandwiches on a whole grain bun, apple slices, and low-fat milk. Good to know, especially if you’re out and about having fun with your family and fast food is your only option. Frankly, what bothers me about fast food is why people choose to eat it every day – teens especially! Studies have linked eating fast food with childhood obesity. Not only is it bad, for your health, but what about your pocket book? Last summer when my son, Michael, started paying for fast food out of his allowance, he quickly figured out he could save a lot more cash to buy gas or iTunes if he ate meals at home with his family.

From one parent to another, rather than pass laws about cup sizes or heavily tax fast food, why not apply some good old parental common sense?  Slow down the fast food!  In my book Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, I provide a variety of tips and strategies to help families limit fast food to less than once a week – that’s the current health recommendation.  Here are a few pointers from the book on how you and your family can eat healthy at fast food chains.

  •  Look for “light” menu items.  Most fast food chains offer at least a few lower calorie choices and will often feature them on the menu board under catchy names such as “fit” or “fresco.”  Note: some chains feature organic meats, but these are not necessarily lower in calories.
  • Downsize portions.  Choose the regular-size portion rather than the double, triple, or super-deluxe option.  The larger the portion, the more calories, fat, and sodium.  Also, regardless of your child’s age, go ahead and order a kiddie meal.  They come in smaller portions and include healthier sides.
  • Be slater savvy.  Order burgers and sandwiches without the mayonnaise or special sauce.  Depending on the portion, these sauces can add from 10 to 400 extra calories.  If your child wants the flavor of the condiment, order it on the side and let him or her spread on a tiny amount.  Better yet, use lower calories sauces such as mustard or ketchup.
  • Let them play.  Choose fast food restaurants that offer a play space where kids can get some physical activity to help burn off any excess calories.

Fast food doesn’t have to be fattening food.  Parents let’s teach our kids how to eat fast food responsibly.

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About Author


Jodie Shield, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.N. Jodie Shield has been a consultant and spokesperson in the field of nutrition for over two decades. A former national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (1989-1995), she has worked extensively with the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and taught nutrition and medical dietetics at the University of Illinois. Currently she is a complemental faculty member of the College of Health Sciences in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Rush University in Chicago.

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