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How to get your kids to eat better at restaurants

3 tips for making kid-friendly yet healthy menu choices when your family goes out to eat

By Gina Houmann, MPH, RDN, LD
October 18, 2017

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Going out for dinner tends to be an outing the whole family gets excited about. A meal out means there will be no dishes to clean. And, everyone can eat what they want!

But each time you and your family head to a favorite restaurant, do you feel like the meals end up being plates full of deep fried . . . well, everything?

Thankfully, I’ve learned that it’s possible (and not hard!) to keep your kids in the habit of eating well without having to sacrifice the delightful experience of dining out. Here are the 3 keys I’ve found to doing that:

1. Simple substitutions.

Most restaurants offer different sides. So go for fruits and veggies over fries. They provide lots of good nutrition and help fill kids up.

Adding veggies to entrees is also a good approach. Add lettuce and tomato to burgers. Ask to have broccoli put in your child’s mac ‘n’ cheese. And when you’re out for pizza (or ordering delivery in!), load it up with tons of green and red peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, pineapple, spinach or other better-for-you toppings.

When it comes to proteins, chicken is a kid favorite so keep in mind that ordering it grilled is a better option than fried. Also be sure to ask if the restaurant you’re at has wheat buns, bread or pasta, and choose those instead of white if it does.

Wondering what to order your child to drink? Choose milk or water over soda or juice whenever you can. There’s a lot of extra sugar in soda and juice that makes those drinks full of empty calories. Milk, on the other hand, is packed with nutrients that help your child grow strong, and water is the best way to keep them hydrated.

2. Sticking to the kids menu.

It often seems like the regular menu has heathier choices. But most of the time, the kids menu is a better option because the portion sizes are smaller. (The price is usually lower, too!) Many restaurants are now offering healthier kid-friendly options for sides and drinks. And some are even making these better options the default.

3. Everything in moderation.

If you don’t eat out often, it is OK to occasionally let your kids have things like chicken strips and fries. Just make sure it isn’t the norm at home, too. When you do the cooking, make sure the meals are full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, lean protein and healthy fats. Help your kids understand that there aren’t inherently “bad foods.” Rather, there are just some foods you eat more often (like fruits and veggies), and some you eat less often (like fries and hamburgers).

Find even more tips to get your family eating better at and

About Gina Houmann, MPH, RDN, LD

Gina Houmann is a Program Manager for several organization-wide nutrition programs at HealthPartners Institute. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. Gina enjoys partnering with clinicians across HealthPartners and Park Nicollet to provide nutrition programs and resources to better serve patients. Previously, she provided nutrition counseling and education for patients at Melrose Center. In her free time, Gina enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, 5-year-old son and 2-year-old twin daughters.

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