For many of us, a leisurely, home-cooked meal is a rare treat. All too often, we are rushed and running out the door with a child on one arm and a long list of errands in the other. Meals on the go are commonplace, but just because our food must be convenient, that doesn’t mean that it has to be unhealthy. With a little planning, we can have the best of both worlds – nutritious and easy.
Pack Some Snacks
For trips around town, packing snacks is the best way to be assured that you and your children will eat good-for-you foods rather than settling for a fast food fix out of sheer desperation. Hungry children are often grumpy children, so tote along a bag of simple snacks to tide them over until you return home. Whole grain crackers, low fat granola, or pretzels all work well, as does fresh fruit. Twist-top bottles of plain water are your best bet for beverages, since they require no refrigeration and allow your children to sip a bit as they become thirsty.
When travelling by car on holiday, try to avoid stopping for too many meals at fast food places. A steady diet of hamburgers, chicken strips, and fried potatoes will leave everyone feeling sluggish. Instead, pack a cooler with healthy sandwich ingredients, fresh fruit, and gelatin snacks. Pull into a rest area and have a picnic. The food is far healthier and it will do everyone good to stretch their legs and rest a bit before heading back on the road.
When you do stop for a quick meal at a fast food place, opt for their healthiest selections. Most offer a grilled chicken sandwich, which, when teamed with a garden salad, makes a reasonable meal. If you choose to order dessert, skip the deep fried pies in favour of a fresh fruit and yogurt bowl. Order milk for everyone – soda offers no nutritional benefits, contributes to tooth decay, and if it contains caffeine, will make your children way too boisterous to be pleasant travelling companions!
Wise Restaurant Choices
Today’s families are busier than ever, and meals at home are often being replaced by meals at restaurants. When dining out, scan the menu for lean entrees. Avoid anything deep dried or even pan fried, instead choosing something that has been baked or boiled. Starting a meal with a vegetable soup can help everyone avoid overeating, but be sure that you choose a broth based, rather than a creamy soup. Salads are good choices and even toddlers will often find some of their favourites at the salad bar. Cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, sliced cucumbers, and shredded carrots all appeal to little ones.
Try not to let your children fill up on selections from the bread basket unless there are a few whole grain choices, which is rare. Baked potatoes are filling – but if baked sweet potatoes are available, choose them instead. Their nutritional value is considerably greater and most people, from babies on up, enjoy their flavour. Sauces and gravies should be avoided, or at least ordered on the side and used sparingly. It is a good idea to train your family’s palates to enjoy vegetables without added butter or creamy sauces, opting instead for a bit of lemon juice. Small things add up quite a lot, and the difference between a healthy plate and a not-so-healthy one can simply be a few pats of butter and a glob of creamy salad dressing.
If your family eats at restaurants as a rare treat, then by all means, indulge a bit. But if, like many families today, restaurant meals are a regular occurrence, then you must be a bit careful about your selections. Eating on the run isn’t in itself, a bad thing, but no matter how busy you are, it pays to take the time to teach your children that good nutrition matters.