Most of the food that children eat is made and consumed at home or, like packed lunches, brought from home. In fact, only around 10% of the food eaten by primary school children is prepared and consumed outside the home.
Unfortunately, food eaten out usually contains more fat and calories than homemade food. This means that a little nutrition 'know how' is even more necessary when you are on the move.
There are two things to focus on when choosing where your family eats:
- The range of food available
- The fat, sugar and salt content of the food
More and more often, parents may be having breakfast on their journey to work. If kids are being brought to school or créche at the same time, then their breakfast may be eaten on the move too. When there's no time to eat before you go, stock up on boxes of pure juice and mini milk cartons for healthy drinks on your way. In cafés or garage convenience stores, try to avoid fatty and sweet breakfast pastries. Choose plainer options like bagels and scones instead. Avoid giving young children breakfast rolls - sausages and rashers are very high in salt and fat. Again, make sure they don't load up on sugary drinks first thing in the morning - go for unsweetened pure juice or milk. It is vital that children eat some food at breakfast time.
If you eat out with your children at lunchtime and want something quick and reasonable, try to avoid fast food outlets. It's OK to have burgers and chips now and again, but because of their high calorie and fat content, keep them for special occasions only. For sandwiches, it's worth picking a place where you can choose what goes into the sandwich. That way you can ensure it isn't loaded with salty meats like salami, or overloaded with mayonnaise. Try to include foods from all the main groups - a chicken salad sandwich and a tub of yoghurt gives you a healthy balance of grains (bread), vegetables, meat and dairy in one meal.
Ideally, when eating out, your children will be served a smaller plate of what you are eating, just like at home. Too often, the children's menu is limited to sausages, chicken nuggets, burgers and chips. You can vote with your feet and avoid those establishments, or ask the manager for a smaller meal for a smaller price. It's very likely that he or she will accommodate you, and if enough people ask, they may even change their menu.
Snacks and drinks
When you're out with the kids it's very easy to succumb to 'pester power' if they get hungry between meals. The best way around this is to have some handy snacks stashed in the car or your bag. Stock up on fruit, popcorn, raisin boxes and plain biscuits such as fig rolls to help them get through to the next meal. If they are thirsty give them water or fruit juice to help them reach their 'five a day' target, or give them milk or hot chocolate for a calcium boost.